March 21, 2005

CSIS credibility in question
by Guidy Mamann

This week CSIS earned many critics when a judge determined that the spy agency destroyed critical evidence rather than turn it over to the RCMP which was also investigating the Air India bombing.

Such critics of the agency are already found within immigration circles.

The main objective of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is to investigate and report on threats to the security of Canada. When the immigration department wishes to investigate the background of a foreigner or permanent resident it subcontracts the investigation to CSIS.

These investigations are not limited to situations where there is a suspicion that the person has actually done anything that would make him inadmissible to Canada. If the person fits a certain profile, such as by gender, age, nationality, religion, affiliation, profession, countries of residence or travel, etc., his file is handed to CSIS for investigation. For sure, this referral will delay the application for many months, and possibly years, while CSIS researches this person's background. CSIS will report its findings to the immigration department which will then decide if the applicant is admissible to Canada.

CSIS has no power to accept or reject an immigration application. However, CSIS effectively holds a veto on the application since the immigration department will not approve an application until CSIS has submitted its report.

Sometimes, CSIS gives advanced notice of interviews and allows counsel to attend these interviews. However, it refuses to allow these sessions to be recorded. Accordingly, I usually take an articling student with me to make duplicate verbatim notes of everything said at the interview. These notes are critical to rebut any incorrect information which may later surface in the officer's report.

The evidence that CSIS gathers is critical because it can be used to detain a person indefinitely without charge if the agency's report persuades the government that it ought to issue a national security certificate labeling that person a threat to Canada.

In my opinion, while its mandate is a legitimate one, CSIS can and does abuse its position of superiority in its immigration dealings.

Often, questions asked at CSIS interviews focus on religious beliefs and not on behaviour. Sometimes, these interviews are used not to probe the applicant but to further another investigation. Clients are routinely asked for a list of friends and business associates.

Some clients report that CSIS visited their homes in the middle of the night unannounced to interrogate them. This technique creates an un-Canadian climate of fear and intimidation and hinders the person's ability to seek the assistance of counsel.

Some clients co-operate in the absence of counsel through false promises of assistance in getting their immigration application accepted.

Recently, immigration lawyer Barbara Jackman publicly accused CSIS of intimidating people who had offered to put up bail for those who the government deemed a risk to national security. If CSIS can destroy evidence relating to the biggest terrorist investigation in Canadian history, what accusation can be made against the agency that is not worthy of belief?