Mr. Speaker, I would like to indicate that I will be sharing my time with the Minister for Western Economic Diversification.
I am honoured to take part in the debate on the motion brought forward by the hon. member for Newton—North Delta.
The Air-India tragedy was the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history. In 1985 all Canadians grieved alongside the families and friends of the Air-India victims. Today we share the pain and frustration of this unresolved tragedy. However, like many of my colleagues before me, I must speak against the motion that calls for a judicial inquiry at this time.
Notwithstanding the recent court decision, it is important to look at some of the context in which the disaster occurred, specifically as it relates to actions of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, CSIS. I would like to devote most of my time to dealing with the evolution of CSIS.
In 1989 the Royal Commission on Security, the MacKenzie Commission, proposed the creation of a civil security intelligence service for Canada. That call was repeated later in 1981 by the MacDonald Commission. The government responded in 1981 by announcing that the security service would be separated from the RCMP and established a civilian security intelligence agency.
The design of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act was the sum of the best efforts of the government and Parliament to find points of consensus from an abundance of views.
A number of options confronted lawmakers of the day. The need for collective security to ensure the safety of the state and its institutions from threats of espionage and terrorism while protecting individual rights to privacy, to dissent, to political activity and to hold and express unpopular and radical opinions was perhaps the most important balance that had to be struck by the act.
In 1984 we lived in a different global security environment than today. Back then when the United States and the Soviet Union were pitted against each other in a nuclear arms race, the majority of the operational resources of the service, approximately 80%, were dedicated to threats from espionage, clandestine foreign interference and subversion. At that time, CSIS was comprised of 1,968 employees and had an operating budget of approximately $115 million. At the time of the Air-India tragedy in 1985, CSIS was in the midst of creating itself. It was a time of considerable transition.
The extensive accountability regime created for the service involved more direct control by the minister, who was accountable to Parliament, and also included two review bodies, the Security Intelligence Review Committee and the inspector general for CSIS, both of which have access to all CSIS employees and all documents except cabinet confidences. There is probably no intelligence organization in the world with such an extensive regime. Fully two-thirds of the CSIS Act deals with accountability and review.
In 1991-92 the Security Intelligence Review Committee, SIRC, reviewed the Air-India issue, scrutinized thousands of CSIS files, conducted interviews of numerous current and former members of the service as well as meeting with representatives of the families of the victims and officials regarding the disaster and its investigation.
In August 1992 SIRC produced a 130 page report. SIRC's review focused on what information CSIS possessed on any threats of terrorism or terrorist action against Air-India and whether it fulfilled its mandate in investigating such threats and advising the appropriate authorities.
SIRC also sought to learn whether CSIS provided all the information in its possession to appropriate law enforcement agencies investigating Air-India. SIRC reviewed whether CSIS complied with all policies related to collection and retention or erasure of audio tapes.
SIRC found that CSIS was investigating potential threats posed by Sikh extremists in accordance with its mandate and in a manner consistent with the then perceived level of threat. Based on its review of the information that CSIS possessed, SIRC determined that the service was not in a position to predict that the Air-India flight was to be the target of a terrorist bomb. SIRC also concluded that in the period following the disaster, all information in the possession of CSIS that was relevant to the investigation was provided to the RCMP.
However, SIRC had criticisms. It noted that inadequate policies accounted for delays in the provision of the information to the RCMP. SIRC also noted that the policies of CSIS on collection, retention and erasure of surveillance audiotapes were deficient and that informal procedures developed to compensate for these problems were not adequate. This is an issue that has been very controversial.
It must be remembered that CSIS is not mandated to collect for evidentiary purposes. Rather collects information on threats to the security of Canada so as to forewarn government. Additionally, the CSIS Act constrains the service to the collection of information that is strictly necessary for the investigation of a threat to Canada's national security.
Most important, SIRC found that it was unlikely that those prevailing retention practices resulted in the loss of important information relevant to the disaster or the investigation.
Much has changed in the world and within CSIS over the past 20 years. When CSIS was first created, SIRC found fault with some of what was done. It recognized, however, “CSIS was naturally under pressure to keep important operations going, and this kept fundamental reform low on the priority list”. Regardless, it took more than three years for this situation to change significantly, causing the committee's 1991-92 report to conclude that CSIS was now virtually a new organization and that “the tone and content of reports by intelligence officers on targets' files have all changed significantly for the better”.
Twenty years of constant review activity have prompted adjustments to the service's management procedures. At the same time, the service moved ahead in forging relationships with its domestic partners with the RCMP being among the most important. The relationship between the two organizations is a close one.
In its 2002-03 report, SIRC noted that the service and the RCMP had shown the capacity to “assist each other effectively while working within their respective mandates”. Not only did CSIS evolve and mature in terms of its centralized organizational and management structure, it also had to adapt to the quickly changing threat environment.
In 1986 CSIS saw a budget enhancement of nearly 60% toward the service's counterterrorist program. In 1992, at the end of the cold war, the service examined the changing threats to Canada's national security to assess how the service should restructure to meet security intelligence needs.
Since then, world events have clearly demonstrated the ongoing threats from terrorists. They have also led to an increased budget for CSIS and a reorganization of the service's operational structure. As SIRC again noted in one of its recent annual reports, CSIS was still evolving.
Today, CSIS has 2,350 employees and a budget of around $292 million. Its employees are more representative of the Canadian population than at any time since its creation in 1984. Some 10% of its employees are members of visible minority groups of various ethnic origins, and one-third of the intelligence officers speak a foreign language in addition to one or both of the official languages.
They are highly educated, bilingual and more than one-third of the service's intelligence officers speak at least one foreign language. The service's information management technology is the envy of the security intelligence organizations in other jurisdictions.
As well, in 2005 CSIS is working more closely than ever with its domestic partners and foreign allies, maintaining cooperative relationships with agencies in 140 countries. The newly created Integrated Threat Assessment Centre, housed within CSIS and headed by a senior member of the RCMP, is another example of the increased domestic cooperation.
Not only is CSIS working more closely with the domestic and international partners through the national security policy, it is increasingly engaged with Canadians, for example, through the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security, and will again have the opportunity to do so with the National Security Advisory Council.
For those reasons, the changes that we have seen within CSIS and the reports that have already come forward, I have to agree with the Deputy Prime Minister that we need to address the issue of dealing with the families and their questions, but certainly not at this point have a public inquiry.