Saturday, October 18, 2014

Harper government to give more powers to CSIS spy agency

The Canadian Conservative government of Stephen Harper has announced that it will increase the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service(CSIS) the main spy agency in Canada.



The Minister of Public Safety Stephen Blaney said the legislation would give the CSIS more power to investigate terrorist threats outside Canada — and also to protect the identity of informants working for CSIS. Blaney referred to the advance of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq as showing the need to increase the powers of CSIS:"The events in recent months in Iraq and Syria have shown us that we cannot become complacent in the face of terrorism. Now more than ever, a motivated individual or a group of extremists with access to technology can do significant harm to Canada from thousands of miles away." Blaney claimed that the new legislation will allow CSIS to track and investigate potential terrorists when they travel outside Canada which could ultimately lead to prosecution.
Blaney claims that the government as of early 2014 the government knew of 130 individuals with connections to Canada who were suspected of engaging in terrorist activities. Eighty of these suspects had already returned to Canada and were being investigated. The legislation would allow CSIS to work more closely with the Five Eyes spy group that includes Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. The legislation would allow CSIS to obtain information from the other four "eyes" on Canadians suspected of fighting with terrorist groups abroad. In turn CSIS could provide other members with information on their citizens in Canada.
The FIve Eyes(FVEY) is described by whistleblower and former US National Security Agency contractor as a "supra-national intelligence organisation that does not answer to the laws of its own countries." : Documents leaked by Snowden in 2013 revealed that the FVEY have been intentionally spying on one another's citizens and sharing the collected information with each other in order to circumvent restrictive domestic regulations on spying. The new Canadian legislation will make legal what CSIS had been doing all along even though it was against the law. CSIS has been subject to a number of criticisms. The Maher Arar report criticised CSIS for not sufficiently subjecting material obtained through torture to critical analysis. A CSIS mole infiltrated a Canadian white supremacist movement from 1988 to 1994 the Heritage Front. Not only was the mole, Grant Bristow, one of the founders of the group, but he ensured that CSIS funds came to the group.
The new CSIS headquarters in Ottawa will be the most expensive government building ever built in Canada. As an October 2013 CBC article noted: While the Harper government is preaching government austerity, it is spending almost $1.2 billion on a new Ottawa headquarters for a little-known military spy agency. The expenditure shows the priority that the government gives to its spy agency.
Two lawyers with a great deal of experience defending clients involving security told the CBC that the blanket protection given to protect sources might cause court proceedings to be unfair to those accused. Lawyer Norm Boxal, who represents an Algerian refugee in a security case, said: "These types of privileges can have far-reaching effects, and can close off information in cases where it would be important to have.There is no problem to have a secret source — that can be done all the time, and within the existing law. The problem is when you have secret information and you choose to act on it, and that's the difference. If they want to use the secret information to enforce things — [for] deportation, or in criminal trials — they should have to produce the source." Paul Copeland, a Toronto lawyer agreed that giving class privilege to intelligence informants would be "highly dangerous" and claimed that the only way to test evidence was to be able to cross-examine on it.
 Steve Hewitt, a senior lecturer in Canadian and American Studies at the University of Birmingham notes that in passing this legislation Canada is following the UK model rather than that of the US where informants are often brought into court in terrorism cases and subject to rigorous cross-examination. He notes that some informants act out of self-interest and for money. Failing to provide a fair trial for suspected terrorists is not likely to hurt the Harper government politically. The appended video shows the type of overseer Stephen Harper appointed for the CSIS.