Evidence of meeting #44 for Public Safety and National Security in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was information.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • John Davies  Director General, National Security Policy, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
  • Michael MacDonald  Director General, National Security Operations Directorate, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Well, I haven't had that discussion with her. Every time my department has engaged the Privacy Commissioner, she has been very proactive in wanting to involve that office in the analysis. Right now that office is involved in the Beyond the Border initiative that we have with the Americans, which the Prime Minister and the President signed.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Yes, that's another thing she has to deal with. That's a third thing, so she really needs more resources.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

There are many more than three things that she has to deal with.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

No, no, it's the three new things on top of everything else she's doing.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

However—

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

I'd like to move on to another topic.

Obviously, you mentioned you don't want CSIS to be engaged in illegal activities. You obviously don't want to be blindsided by shady behaviour on the part of CSIS. Therefore, you need to keep an eye on what the agency is doing, for the good of your own position and for the good of Canadians, which is why it is quite surprising that the government is getting rid of the position of Inspector General.

I believe there were over 20 people in that office who were dedicated to ensuring that CSIS followed the law and that you as a minister would not be blindsided. In fact, I think you appreciated the role that the Inspector General has played. If I'm not mistaken, you said at one point in 2010 the following: The Inspector General performs an important review function that supports me in my role as Minister and ensures that CSIS is operating within the law and complying with current policies.

I think you need those resources. I'm just wondering why you weren't able to get the resources you needed or you weren't able to get cabinet approval to maintain a position that you have said was valuable to your work.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

In fact, the reorganization has done nothing to change my substantive ability to keep an eye on CSIS and, more importantly, not just my keeping an eye on CSIS through Public Safety. Remember, the Inspector General was not an independent office; it reported to CSIS. It was not an independent organization.

Public Safety can carry out much of the same function; plus, we have strengthened SIRC, the independent review agency, which can conduct the same types of functions the Inspector General carried out.

The only difference is that we've eliminated about $800,000 annually in administrative costs. We have not diminished the capacity in any way to look at the substantive activities of CSIS and to ensure that they are co-operating.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

But the Inspector General had very specific powers under sections 30 to 33 of the CSIS Act, which the department, in reviewing itself, would not have.

As a matter of fact, what's interesting about this budget—which is much, much more than a financial plan for Canada—is that it gives the department the ability to review the services-specific activities and provide the committee with a report on review, if it considers that a review by the service would be inappropriate.

The department doesn't have the same powers, as far as I can see, that the Inspector General had under sections 30 to 33 of the CSIS Act. I think it's a bit problematic that it's in a budget and that we seem to be weakening your ability to get the information you need.

Let me—

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Scarpaleggia. We're going to have to cut that off. You'll have to get an answer in the next round, because his time has expired.

Mr. Scott, for five minutes in the second round.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister, for coming in.

I wonder if I could ask just a few questions that I think require only short answers before asking one that goes to the heart of the rule of law question that you've brought up.

As my colleague Mr. Garrison referred to it, we do have the concluding observations of the recent Committee Against Torture, and a couple of the recommendations go directly to the heart of the rule of law principle in the resilience document. One effectively recommends, in very strong terms, that Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, and Nureddin be compensated in the same way, albeit not necessarily at the same level, as Mr. Arar. This is a specific case, but it very much goes to the heart of the question of security intelligence and what we do when it goes wrong.

So the quick question is, does your ministry, in tandem with any other ministries, have any intention of adhering to this recommendation?

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

This is a matter before the courts. I won't get involved in that.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

The Arar commission report, which has long been lauded for its recommendations with respect to models of oversight of national security intelligence operations, is also referenced by the Committee Against Torture. I'm just wondering if there's any short way you can tell us whether that is still under consideration.

The O'Connor commission report referenced models of surveillance. Could you indicate whether you're moving entirely in a new direction, including strengthening SIRC? Could you give us information on that?

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

In respect of SIRC and the whole issue of oversight, I want to emphasize that the elimination of the Inspector General in no way limits my ability to get information out of CSIS. If Public Safety can't get that, which is essentially acting on my behalf in the same way that the Inspector General did, I can request that SIRC do an investigation into that. So the oversight remains exactly the same and we save $800,000 in administrative costs.

As a result of the Air India inquiry action plan, we will continue to preserve the effectiveness of the review mechanisms that are already in place, such as in SIRC, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, and the Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner.

So I think that we have the full ability to hold CSIS accountable, either through administrative directions of the Department of Public Safety or through a request to SIRC.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Thank you very much.

So I understand that you have pretty much settled on the system you would like to have.

With respect to the rule of law, you did mention non-traditional partners being part of the security-sharing apparatus transnationally. Mr. Scarpaleggia brought that up as his core question.

We have experience. We've had almost 10 years of experience, for example, with Afghanistan. We know that CSIS was in the field. We also know that other intelligence agencies were there. I'm wondering whether or not there are any active studies going on about lessons learned with respect to CSIS or any other intelligence agencies that you have to be cognizant of with respect to intelligence acquisition in Afghanistan.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

I can't say that I've received a specific briefing on Afghanistan solely. I've certainly had briefings on many countries and our involvement, in the intelligence we have received from many countries, but I don't quite know what you're saying in terms of lessons learned. I can tell you that SIRC, CSIS, and Public Safety continue to learn on a daily basis and that I as the minister continue to learn on a daily basis.

I think the plan itself that we came up with is part of that learning experience. I like the word Mr. Davies used when he said that this is an “evergreen” document. We will continue to learn and we will continue to improve the strategy, but we think that the fundamentals of the strategy are correct in the four principles that we have identified. I'm pleased that the New Democrats are supportive of those four principles.