Thanks very much.
Thank you for inviting me to appear before you. As noted, Professor Roach and I have coordinated our presentations.
I'm going to start off by focusing on why we support Bill C-22, and then outline a key concern, some of which you've heard in the prior presentations, namely the proposed committee's access to information.
Let me begin by looking across the Atlantic. In November 2014, the United Kingdom Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliamentarians published a 200-page report on the intelligence relating to the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby by two terrorists on the streets of south London. That report concluded that seven different security agencies had flagged the two terrorists as persons of interest. Errors were made in these operations, although even without these mistakes, it was unlikely the services would have been able to predict and prevent the murder of Fusilier Rigby.
The report also considered, however, the wider policy implications of its findings. It drew lessons learned and recommendations on how interagency relations could be improved.
Juxtapose this with the situation in Canada. Just over two years ago, Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent were killed by terrorists in separate incidents, including the one that terminated in Parliament itself. We have no public accounting of any real sort of what happened. What did our services know? Why did they make the decisions they did? What are the lessons learned? At best, we have a heavily redacted accounting of the security systems on the Hill, as if the questions concerning national security started only when the terrorist entered the parliamentary precinct.
We do not, in other words, do lessons learned exercises well in Canada. Judicial commissions of inquiry such as that concerning the treatment of Maher Arar or the much delayed review of the Air India bombing investigation are episodic, and once they end, their recommendations usually die with them.
Our existing expert review bodies, meanwhile, are stovepiped to individual agencies and incapable of conducting seamless reviews of operational activities that cross agency boundaries. Their focus is usually on compliance with law and policy, what we call propriety review, and they rarely make recommendations on what we call efficacy questions, that is, how well our national security systems work, and especially work together.
That is why we support Bill C-22. It invests parliamentarians with a serious national security accountability function for the first time in Canadian history, and in that respect, aims to catch up to a role legislators now play in essentially all western democracies. Even more critically, it opens the door for the first time to all-of-government review by a standing body able to follow the thread of its inquiry across departments and to conduct efficacy review, as well as the more classic propriety review. This body will endure, and will be capable of follow-up in a manner impossible for ad hoc commissions of inquiry.
But we support Bill C-22 with serious caveats. The success of the proposed committee of parliamentarians will ultimately depend on three criteria.
First, the parliamentarians undertaking this role must be able to perform their functions in a serious-minded manner, in good faith, and without regulatory capture by the agencies. We need, in other words, the right people. Second, parliamentarians will, in practice, be part-time participants on the review committee, and turnover among parliamentarians will occur, especially between parliaments. A stable, well-resourced expert staff is required to ensure continuity and institutional knowledge, and to ensure that the committee can actually function. Third, the committee must have robust access to secret information.
In my remaining moments, I wish to emphasize this third axiomatic point. Unless the committee can access information allowing it to follow trails, it will give the appearance of accountability without the substance. On this point, unfortunately, if enacted in its present form, the proposed Bill C-22 committee will not be as robust a reviewer as are the existing expert bodies, at least on paper.
For one thing, its capacity in paragraph 8(b) to delve into the actual operational details that are a necessary focus of proprietary review is subject to a veto by the executive. Prior witnesses focused on this issue.
Also, the committee will have a much more limited access to information than at least two of the existing expert bodies. There are two principal reasons for this.
First, under clause 14, there are classes of information the government will automatically deny the committee. Take the example of paragraph 14(b) concerning military intelligence. Again, this was raised by the prior witnesses. I would hazard that this exclusion would mean that the parliamentary committee could not delve into the Afghan detainee affair in any full manner, meaning that we would still be left without any independent body able to get fully to the bottom of that matter.
Likewise, take the example in paragraph 14(e) concerning “ongoing” law enforcement investigations. These can endure essentially indefinitely. The RCMP, even now, decades later, still has an active law enforcement investigation into the 1985 Air India bombing. Even now, the new committee could be denied information concerning the disastrous security and intelligence community conduct in relation to Canada's most horrific terrorist incident.
Even the exception in paragraph 14(d) dealing with sources is potentially far-reaching. The reference to inferences opens the door to carving away considerable swaths of information, especially if the government applies its infamous “mosaic theory”; that is, it posits that individual units of information that are themselves innocuous should not be released since they could be stitched together by an omniscient observer to reveal sensitive information—in this case, informer-identifying information.
On top of that, there is an additional limit: clause 16. It gives every minister responsible for an agency whose information may be in play a limited veto power, allowing the minister to deny the committee something called “special operational information”. The items listed in this concept appear at first blush to be modest in scope, but again would have the effect of excluding information on things like Afghan detainees. There is also that open-ended word, infer, in the governing statute and cross-referenced by Bill C-22, that is, the Security of Information Act, which inevitably would have the effect of greatly broadening the universe of information that ministers can deny the committee.
There are three layers of constraint on the new committee of parliamentarians being an effective review body: clause 8 in paragraph (b), clause 14, and clause 16. It is this triple lock on parliamentary reviews that I feel could well make the committee of parliamentarians stumble.
In sum, Bill C-22 opts for a model that treats parliamentarians as less trustworthy than the often former politicians who sit on SIRC, or the judges who hear security cases, or ministers who sit at the apex of the security and intelligence services. It is not at all clear to me why security-cleared parliamentarians sworn to secrecy, subject to the criminal penalties of the Security of Information Act and stripped of their parliamentary privileges in terms of defending against those charges, are less trustworthy than their former colleagues who often staff review bodies.
I would strongly urge, therefore, amendments that would place the committee on the same footing in terms of access to information as these review bodies: full access to information except for cabinet confidences.
Thank you for your interest.