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BCCLA reacts to proposals for expanded powers for CSIS and to spy review body’s critique of CSIS accountability failures

VANCOUVER – Carmen Cheung, Senior Counsel at the BC Civil Liberties Association, reacted this morning to reports that a security bill seeking to expand the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) powers may be tabled as early as today, and to the suggestion that “radical thoughts” expressed online might be criminalized:

“Rushed and reactionary lawmaking is unwise. The question that Canadians should be asking is not what additional powers government needs to protect public safety, but how existing powers are being used and whether the existing criminal law is being properly enforced. We must ask how the tragic events of last week came to pass, without jumping to the conclusion that creating new laws is the answer. In a free society, there is no such thing as perfect security. The prospect of an all-seeing, always-spying government that can lock people up merely for their thoughts, and not their actions is fundamentally at odds with our democratic society.”

Ms. Cheung also commented on last week’s report of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) – the independent body responsible for reviewing CSIS activities – that identified several issues of concern with how CSIS is using its existing powers:

“We need to take care that we not adding to CSIS’s powers only as a reflexive response to recent tragedy, particularly when its own review body reported just last week that Canada’s spies have not been properly accountable for their existing powers. SIRC itself reports that it encountered difficulties in conducting its review and that in one investigation, it had been ‘seriously misled’ by CSIS and that CSIS had ‘violated its duty of candour.’ Last year the Federal Court of Canada harshly rebuked CSIS for keeping the court in the dark about its operations when applying for warrants. This is unacceptable. And while the government wants to give our spies more power overseas and provide blanket confidentiality for CSIS informants, SIRC’s report highlights ongoing concerns with CSIS intelligence operations outside Canada. This includes flaws with how CSIS confirms the value and reliability of intelligence collected overseas, which can have a direct impact on how CSIS investigates Canadians here at home. Before we can expand the power of our spy agencies, Canada’s spies need to be accountable for the powers they already have.”

The BCCLA is a non-partisan civil liberties and human rights organization that has developed expertise on national security issues for over fifty years, including public opposition to the use of the War Measures Act in 1970, participation in the Commission of Inquiry that led to the creation of CSIS and the end of the RCMP’s domestic spying role, and submissions to Parliament on anti-terror legislation following 9/11. The BCCLA currently has two constitutional lawsuits against Canada’s electronic spy agencies for mass, warrantless surveillance of the public.

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