Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs I am pleased to respond to the minister's statement on the tabling of the annual report of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
In the public's view of CSIS there exists an inordinate secrecy about its general operations and an apparent lack of accountability to the government and the Canadian community it serves. This report tabled today does not assuage legitimate public concerns about the underlying assumptions of the existence and the operational philosophy of CSIS.
We are in a time for governments when business as usual is not good enough. The government of the day is being forced to recognize that basic reviews of social programs and general priority setting of departments will happen one way or another.
It can be done in a rational way or by disjointed incrementalism. It is like rushing, putting out fires so to speak, when the crisis of finance and popular political support implodes upon the sleepwalking government as it stumbles along toward a new Canada of new international, fiscal and democratic realities.
When we come back to look at CSIS from this side of the House there is an increasing uneasiness about the aspects of a government bureau that spends a fair amount of public resources to in effect maintain an image while at the same time satisfying the self-serving interests of insular survival at a time when all else in government is under fundamental review.
We are in social service review and, more closely to CSIS, the military establishment will be undergoing a white paper review process. Certainly it is also time to ask this government about CSIS, its mission statement, its performance results measured against its own goals and mandate laid out in the previous annual reports and the legislation.
There has been fundamental review before but we need more than the current committee oversight process and annual reports.
I have been 21 years in provincial public service and I have come to appreciate how government bureaucracy can become focused on its self-importance and develop a driving agenda that is so right for those on the inside while it is losing the proper connections with those it was originally created to serve.
From the opposition chairs, from this side of the House, from Her Majesty's loyal constructive alternative, I want to ring the bell of this government again on the community accountability issue for CSIS. Members of the Liberal cabinet may think it is business as usual, they may think they have the traditional Canadian divine right to govern, for after all they are the Liberals. It is a new Canada of more open and accountable government that is the standard required.
The pre-Confederation reformers' agenda of responsible and accountable government beyond mere representative government has finally come of age and is represented by a new wave of Reformers in this House. We question the business as usual attitude, the annual report of CSIS which really tells this House nothing much about what goes on there. The public report is a good press release but justifies nothing.
I am quite aware of the difference between the operational confidentiality required for the organization to be effective and the new higher level of ongoing accountability that citizens are coming to demand of government which in so many areas this government has not comprehended, being stuck as it is in old Canada thinking.
CSIS is said to look after security intelligence, national security enforcement and national protective security. The 1994 report is said to provide a window on security intelligence. I think it is a very small window and not large enough to let the light in of effective accountability.
CSIS is mandated to perform a difficult job, formerly done by the RCMP which led to a national scandal and the resultant creation of CSIS as a solution. One wonders what the 1994 scandal will be-cigarettes? I do not have any alternatives to present today.
We have CSIS. We need such an organization. It has legislation, resources and about 2,500 people involved. That is no small change. Daily in the media Canadians hear from around the world reports of war, political unrest and intrigue and a changing geopolitical landscape. Canadians want to be assured that someone is minding the store and tracking world events specifically in a Canadian security sense in view of vital Canadian interests.
The cold war is over. The western alliance intelligence systems have had to re-examine operations, assumptions and priorities. Despite the reports that are annually tabled and the current review and accountability structure, how is CSIS really? How is it moving to respond to rapidly changing world circumstances and the emerging new risks?
Specifically, despite what we have all heard about CSIS has it been able at this point to become truly proactive and predictive or is it still largely reactive or, in the vernacular, functioning "catch as catch can".
Issues of espionage, foreign influence, illegal activities in Canada and politically motivated violence are of grave concern. The world is a less predictable place. Canada is an international player and cannot isolate itself.
Hostile intelligence services of other governments, transnational corporations, which often are larger than many countries in resources and capabilities and are accountable to no one, these are issues for CSIS. As the number of global power centres grows so does the potential for threat.
As Canada becomes a seller and inventor of high value added technologies, both Canadian law and our international trade agreements may be broken by both the Canadian criminal element and underground operatives in the nations with which we trade.
Economic espionage is not new but it is a major issue for CSIS. This activity disrupts the level playing field which is a principle of international trade agreements. Yet there is a doubtful priority given to it. Accordingly, last year there was a liaison program from CSIS to the private business sector to enhance understanding of vulnerabilities.
Unfortunately the marching orders for CSIS' role in economic security was defensive, only advisory and precautionary. Canadian law could be broken. International conventions could be violated, our trade agreements subverted yet in economic espionage CSIS was again to be passive, reactive rather than proactive.
What about specific training and research done jointly with manufacturing associations or other national trade and financial organizations? It is community policing at a national level, block watch in the industrial, technological and financial sectors. I doubt from what I have heard that CSIS has anywhere near that kind of preventive, predictive level of operation, yet that is the best kind of law enforcement.
To say that private sector industrial espionage is strictly the responsibility of the private sector is like standing guard at the front door while the thieves come and go at will through the back door.
Monitoring and intercepting the deadly traffic of weapons and their associated technologies is a CSIS role. Terrorism is active in the world. Canada has been used for fund raising for foreign weapons buying and sometimes as a safe haven for numbers of extremist groups. CSIS, the RCMP, the military, Immigration and so on have overlapping roles to control criminal acts from these sources.
Global trends of ethnic nationalism, fanatic types of religious fundamentalism and other forms of destabilizing ideological extremism warrant vigilance. The immigrants to this country and the millions who have come since the 1970s must be protected from foreign influenced activities and be dissociated from former homeland quarrels, violence and extortion. These immigrants must not be exploited by homeland interests. Old disputes from offshore must not continue in and through Canada.
The sources of terrorism remain strong. Nationalism, separatism, ideological extremism are I am sure some of the things that CSIS touches as it works to ensure the safety, security and integrity of our society within the context of a national security system.
The task of monitoring our national security agency is not one that parliamentary systems handle very well. With CSIS, we pay the piper but we never hear the tune or have much knowledge about what instrument is being played. We invest large sums of money in gathering security intelligence. I am not too sure we know what to do with a lot of what is gathered.
CSIS is something like a national insurance policy or a security alarm in the night to protect the public and national interest. Value for money then is an issue. How do we know the alarm works or if it is even turned on. We see the CSIS budget stay about the same despite changing realities. They are coming together in one building, organizing and reorganizing. I certainly hope that by now the internal turf wars are over between the grandfathered RCMP types and the other technocrats.
Reputation has it that for the past while much of CSIS' resources have been used up by itself for itself with infighting, reorganization upon reorganization with not much of real product or results for the national interest, the basic reasons why CSIS exists. This gets back to the basic issue of accountability.
Although I am sure we have people there who see themselves as dedicated and hardworking, secret unaccountable organizations, like governments that behave that way, very soon get completely off the rails. There must be an ongoing tension for an
efficacious result as the blank check of power is very corrupting to those within the system.
As a final suggestion, it is often the lowest level operatives in the system who actually deliver the service, the ones who actually do the work that are the best source for renewal, new and better accountability and a help for a mission statement. They usually are never asked or seriously considered.
In summary, CSIS must be accountable, not in just that it spent its money within the allowable vote and its accounts are correct. Canadians have a right to know that the existence of CSIS is worth it. My opening remarks related to a change in community attitude against top-down, we know best government activity.
I thank the minister for his report. I make the point for the need of better, broad based accountability. Increased public confidence in CSIS can only strengthen its role. I close by saying we hope against hope that CSIS can truly deliver a degree of security that places our nation in the ranks of the more fortunate few nations that have peace, order and good and honest government.