Thank you, Mr. Chair.
This is a change that would have an impact on the oversight of CSIS. Back in 2010 Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said that “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.” Our view is that the minister was absolutely right in that statement, and therefore we do not support the removal of the oversight of the inspector general.
We heard testimony from Mr. Paul Kennedy, who came before this committee. Mr. Kennedy told us that he had 20 years of experience in the field of national security. He served as a senior Assistant Deputy Minister of Public Safety. He has been a crown prosecutor, and although his testimony was dismissed as wrong by members opposite, he was in fact very credible. I want to highlight some concerns that he raised.
Mr. Kennedy said that “due to their covert nature, security intelligence activities do not lend themselves to a traditional accountability model”, nor can Canadians access information from CSIS in the same way they can from other government institutions. He also said that inappropriate behaviour by CSIS falls directly at the feet of the Minister of Public Safety.
Mr. Kennedy also said, and I quote:
The Minister of Public Safety presides over a vast portfolio which engages the services of some 40,000 public servants. It's impossible for him to know whether each individual is conducting his or her responsibilities in accordance with the law, operational policies, and ministerial directives and whether powers are being exercised in a reasonable manner.
He made a number of comments. I'll just highlight something else:
That office audits the investigative activity of CSIS at the case file level to ensure that it is in fact complying. The inspector general reports directly to the minister and provides assurances that matters are on course or provides a heads-up as to potential problems.
Now, we heard officials say that this was just duplication, that there were other organizations, there was another body that would handle this kind of review. But Mr. Kennedy said that is simply not true, that the other body is qualitatively different and the inspector general is the one who really represents the eyes and the ears of the minister when it comes to CSIS. Mr. Kennedy was very concerned about why this oversight would be removed, given the personal accountability that the minister has to this. He said that “...without such an office the minister would be blind and entirely at the mercy of the intelligence service. This is neither a reasonable nor a desirable outcome.”
Lastly, he said that
...both the RCMP Security Service and CSIS have had more than their fair share of troubles....The financial cost of past missteps in the area of national security...measured simply in terms of commissions of inquiries...runs to the many tens of millions of dollars, and that's not counting the loss of public support.
The point is that if this is part of a cost-cutting measure, it is simply too high a price to pay in terms of loss of public confidence and potential higher costs down the road, given what Mr. Kennedy felt would be the inevitable problems that would arise due to lack of oversight of and accountability by CSIS.
So we're opposed to this change. The inspector general is not a large expense, but it is a valuable source of information for an organization that is by its nature secret but that Canadians still need to know is behaving according to the rules.