Vancouver Sun, 02 October 1998, A19
By John Russell and Andrew Irvine
On whose orders was the RCMP compiling files on activists, and what role did CSIS play? These are issues the current inquiry should pursue, the authors argue.
What role did the Canadian Security Intelligence Service play during last November’s APEC conference?
Because such events, which involve visiting heads of state, raise important matters of national security for Canada and for other countries, intelligence gathering clearly falls within CSIS’s jurisdiction.
Yet, if recent reports are accurate, there appears to have been a major breakdown in the division of responsibilities between CSIS and the RCMP.
Last week, The Vancouver Sun reported on documents that revealed that the RCMP used informants to infiltrate and report on the activities of groups that were acknowledged to be non-violent protest organizations. The documents also revealed that the RCMP assembled dossiers on members of these groups, that high profile members were placed under police surveillance prior to the APEC conference, and that pictures of “potential troublemakers” from these groups were taken and circulated.
If these reports are accurate, they not only illustrate a shocking failure on the part of the RCMP to properly appreciate the nature and importance of the free speech and privacy rights of Canadian citizens. They also raise important questions about RCMP intelligence gathering.
In a healthy democratic society, citizens must be free to associate with each other for common ends without having the blunt instruments of state power follow their every move and thought. Such invasive behaviour undermines the openness that is essential for our democratic deliberative processes to operate effectively. And too often it leads to other serious abuses of official power.
As Canadians, we know this all too well.
In the late 1970s, the MacDonald Commission of Inquiry into Certain Acts of the RCMP found that the RCMP had infiltrated many non-violent public interest organizations, including political parties. It also found that the RCMP had compiled dossiers on tens of thousands of Canadian citizens, and even engaged in “dirty tricks” to discredit various groups. As a result of its investigations, the MacDonald Commission concluded that it was necessary to remove responsibility for national security intelligence gathering from the RCMP and place it within an organization that had a carefully limited mandate and strict civilian oversight.
The Commission’s proposal was grounded in the evidence it found that police officers lacked the training and judgment to do the delicate job of security intelligence gathering in a way that paid proper respect to the basic rights of Canadian citizens. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service was subsequently created in the mid-80s for this purpose.
With the most recent revelations, the RCMP again seems to have proved the MacDonald Commission’s point, raising new questions. Why, and on whose orders, was the RCMP gathering this information? And to what extent, if any, was CSIS involved?
Possibly the answer is that CSIS could not obtain authorization to infiltrate non-violent organizations composed of Canadian citizens because its mandate (rightly) prevents this. The RCMP does not have its mandate similarly limited, and so may have believed it would not be acting illegally by placing law-abiding citizens under this type of surveillance.
Or possibly, the RCMP simply ignored the whole question of jurisdiction and acted on its own, or under orders from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The APEC inquiry needs to pursue these issues thoroughly and carefully. They raise questions, not only about the appropriateness of the RCMP’s behaviour, but also about its mandate and jurisdiction-questions that were supposed to have been resolved by the MacDonald Commission and the creation of CSIS. Indeed, this scenario betrays a serious flaw in Canadian security intelligence institutions, one that informed observers have known about for some time.
Many institutions within the Canadian government have a need for security intelligence information and for the resources that gather it. But, unlike, CSIS, they do not have a carefully designed madate as to when and how they may gather such information. This allows these agencies to operate independently, and with fewer restrictions. It also opens up the prospect that CSIS may simply pass off files it cannot pursue to the RCMP, Immigration, Foreign Affairs, or National Defence. Neither situation adequately protects the rights of Canadian citizens, and events surrounding APEC may provide concrete evidence of this.
The current inquiry cannot address all of these matters, but it can help uncover information that will address important issues related to law enforcement and the protection of Canadians’ basic rights. Among the questions that now need to be pursued are the following:
Did the RCMP seek CSIS’s help in gathering information on protesters? If not, why not, given that security intelligence gathering falls within CSIS’s mandate, and not the RCMP’s? If help from CSIS was sought for gathering information on non-violent protest groups, was that help refused, on the plausible grounds that there was no evidence of a threat to national security from these groups? And if so, did the RCMP go ahead anyway?
What sort of role did police informants play in these groups? Did they attempt to manage the activities of these groups or to discredit them?
Did the RCMP share any of the intelligence information that it gathered on Canadian citizens with security intelligence agencies from other countries who were involved in security preparations? If so, what information was shared?
What is the status now of the dossiers that have been assembled on law-abiding Canadian citizens? Could information in those dossiers still be shared with other national and international agencies? And, unless there is evidence of criminal wrong-doing, are all of these dossiers going to be destroyed?
It has been apparent for some time that the issues raised by the APEC protest go well beyond the actions of a few police officers removing signs and pepper spraying protesters.
One way or another, it is crucial that Canadians discover whether there was a systematic effort to block the exercise of basic freedoms, one that may have begun with the Prime Minister and his staff and extended through the senior ranks of the RCMP. Equally important, we also need to know, and know-in detail-exactly which government agencies politicians and others believe they can use to spy on Canadian citizens. John Russell and Andrew Irvine teach philosophy at the University of British Columbia and are directors of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.