SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- Federal New Democrats and Liberals are demanding that the government increase oversight for Canada’s main spy agency, but otherwise they’re holding their cards close to their chests when it comes to the government’s proposed anti-terrorism legislation.
After reviewing the proposed laws over the weekend, the two main opposition Monday reiterated their ongoing concerns about lack of parliamentary oversight when it comes to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Last week, the government unveiled a sweeping plan to expand CSIS’s mandate from intelligence-gathering to include thwarting terrorist plots and other “threats to Canada.” But it did not build in any new monitoring mechanisms, despite dropping the agency’s internal watchdog in 2012.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday that Canadians understand “their freedoms and security more often than not go hand in hand,” while Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney over the weekend described the notion of additional oversight as “red tape.”
“If we are going to be giving increased and enhanced powers (to CSIS), the public has a right to better oversight,” NDP leader Tom Mulcair said Monday. “Why does the minister call that red tape? Does he consider protecting Canadians’ rights red tape?”
Harper was not in the House of Commons Monday to reply, but Blaney said CSIS’s activities are already reviewed by the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), whose membership is appointed by the prime minister. It reports to Parliament annually.
“The security intelligence review committee will cover all activities that CSIS will be mandated by this Parliament to accomplish,” Blaney told the House of Commons. “SIRC is an established, well-recognized, expert committee that has the knowledge to do intelligence security.”
Liberal deputy leader Ralph Goodale shot back by noting that former SIRC chairman Arthur Porter, who was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is currently in a Panamanian jail facing corruption charges, and that other seats on the committee have sat empty for months.
“Every single one of our allies with whom we share intelligence has a parliamentary or congressional oversight mechanism,” Goodale said. “If it is right for the U.S., the UK, New Zealand and Australia, why is it wrong for Canada?”
Yet neither the NDP nor the Liberals would say whether their respective parties plan to vote against the proposed anti-terror laws. Instead, they said the legislation is complicated, and that they are still going through the fine print.
“We’re going to be very thorough in our analysis of this bill,” Mulcair told reporters. “There are some things that at first blush do seem to be helpful. Criminalizing incitement to commit a terrorist act, frankly, is a good idea, and it’s not something that could have been caught by other provisions of the law.
“But what we’ve been saying for some time is if you’re going to give enhanced powers, you have to have enhanced oversight. That’s a given.”
There has been speculation the NDP and Liberals are reluctant to come down too hard on the bill because the majority of Canadians support taking a tougher stand against terrorism, and the opposition parties don’t want to be labelled soft on security.
Liberal public safety critic Wayne Easter said his party is talking to experts and stakeholders “to understand all the implications and details of the bill.” He rejected suggestions that political calculations are a factor in how his party plans to respond to the legislation.
“If anybody’s been strong on national security and public safety over the years, it has been the Liberal Party, contrary to the messaging of the prime minister,” Easter said, referencing the anti-terror laws brought in by the Jean Chrétien Liberals following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “We’ve been there. We understand the tough decisions that have to be made.
“We’re in a somewhat different world in 2014,” he added, “and we need to look at the issue in the context of today and we’re certainly willing to that. But we’re not going to play politics with this particular issue.”