Feb 23 2015
Beefing up the powers of Canada’s spy agency will come at the expense of the RCMP’s ability to investigate and prosecute terrorists, security and legal experts are warning.
In addition, giving new powers to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to “disrupt” security threats will increase the role of political officials in law-enforcement operations in Canada, experts said.
The federal government’s proposed Anti-Terrorism Act has sparked a fierce debate between proponents of security and defenders of civic rights. The Conservatives and Liberals voted to send the legislation to committee for further study – against the opposition of the NDP – on Monday night.
Security experts are already raising questions over the government’s decision to provide CSIS with new powers to disrupt terrorist threats, which stands to increase its overlapping areas of responsibility with the RCMP.
In particular, CSIS agents would be able to stay much longer on a case before they call in the Mounties to open up a criminal investigation, as they frequently do under their joint responsibilities over national-security matters. Instead of facing a criminal investigation, potential terrorists would continue to be monitored, and potentially disrupted by the intelligence-gathering agency, but not face the possibility of being charged, which is the sole purview of the RCMP.
In announcing the legislation last month, federal officials said the goal is to provide CSIS agents with the ability to act on threats to Canada’s security “while they are in the planning stage.” For example, CSIS agents could disrupt shipments of chemicals to would-be terrorists, or speak to a would-be terrorist’s family members and friends to try and influence his plans, the government said.
But it also means that in many cases, CSIS could continue to track a target rather than calling on the RCMP to launch a criminal investigation.
“It’s blindingly obvious that it’s creating a potential problem area, not just in terms of the co-operation between the two agencies, but the efficacy of their work,” said Wesley Wark, a professor at the University of Ottawa and one-time member of the Prime Minister’s now defunct Advisory Council on National Security.
“If CSIS gets involved in too many disruption operations, under a quasi-intelligence mandate, this means that you are removing cases from the reach of criminal prosecutions.”
Pierre-Yves Bourduas, a former RCMP deputy commissioner, said the new powers stand to create a new “grey area” between the two agencies’ mandates.
“I can’t help but reflect on the Air India inquiry, where CSIS hung on too long to particular information that would have been very valuable to the RCMP. It’s something you have to bear in mind, looking at this legislation, to ensure that both CSIS and the RCMP will co-ordinate their efforts,” he said. “We have to learn from the lessons of the past.”
(Globe and Mail)