May 28, 2006
CSIS to be investigated

OTTAWA (CP) - The watchdog over CSIS has been asked to probe the prickly question of whether the spy agency relies on information extracted through torture.

Counsel for an Ottawa man facing deportation over alleged terrorist ties has lodged a formal protest about agency practices with the Security Intelligence Review Committee.

In his complaint, lawyer Paul Copeland alleges the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has shown a "total lack of concern" about evidence possibly gathered through coercive means.

"From what I've seen, they're making no attempt to ensure that the stuff isn't obtained from torture," Copeland said in an interview.

The process could shine a light on how Canadian intelligence officials handle and use information gleaned from allied services, including the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, in the fight against terrorism.

CSIS insists it is extremely concerned about the issue.

CSIS director Jim Judd is slated to answer questions about the spy service's role in anti-terrorism efforts during an appearance Monday before the Senate defence and security committee.

Copeland's objections stem from evidence CSIS entered in the case of client Mohamed Harkat, who could be deported to his native Algeria under a national security certificate.

Harkat, a former pizza delivery man in Ottawa, has been in jail since his December 2002 arrest. He is soon to be released on bail.

CSIS contends Harkat is an Islamic extremist and collaborator with Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, which carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The spy service also argues he supports Afghan, Pakistani and Chechen extremists.

The 37-year-old Harkat has denied ever aiding Islamic radicals.

CSIS said Abu Zubaydah, one of bin Laden's chief lieutenants, had identified Harkat as the operator of a guest house in the Pakistani city of Peshawar for extremists travelling to Chechnya.

According to federal lawyer James Mathieson, a foreign agency advised CSIS in March 2003 that Zubaydah was able to identify Harkat by his physical description and his activities.

U.S. authorities captured Zubaydah in Pakistan four years ago, and there has been persistent speculation he was tortured into giving up information.

Copeland has pressed Canadian officials to reveal whether Zubaydah's statements about Harkat were elicited through torture, arguing that would render them unreliable.

In a March 2005 decision upholding the certificate against Harkat, Justice Eleanor Dawson concluded the Ottawa man had associated with Zubaydah. But she based this on secret evidence, not the material from Zubaydah himself, saying she had doubts about how the al-Qaida figure "came to provide information about Mr. Harkat."

During bail proceedings for Harkat last fall, Copeland questioned a senior CSIS analyst, identified only as P.G., whether he ever asked if information he handled was obtained through torture.

P.G. insisted he would usually try to corroborate such material through independent sources.

Copeland came away believing the spy service made no effort to determine whether information was extracted by torture.

In late November, his complaint landed on a desk at CSIS headquarters.

In her three-page response to Copeland last December, CSIS assistant director Rennie Marcoux acknowledged the "important and difficult issue."

She noted CSIS is required, before entering a foreign liaison arrangement, to address the country's human rights record, including possible abuses by its security or intelligence organizations.

In addition, arrangements with countries that do not share Canada's respect for human rights are to be considered only when contact is necessary to protect the security of Canada.

Dissatisfied with the response, Copeland took the matter to the intelligence review committee, an independent panel that reports to Parliament.

Copeland said the review committee had begun making arrangements to look into his complaint.

A spokeswoman for the committee cited privacy reasons in declining to confirm or deny whether a complaint had been received.

CSIS spokeswoman Barbara Campion said the service could not comment further on a matter under examination by the review committee.

The committee has already touched on the question of torture.

In its latest annual report, the committee said CSIS was in no position to make "an absolute assurance" to the government that information it receives from allied spy agencies is not obtained as a result of torture or other human rights violations.

The committee noted that former CSIS director Ward Elcock told the federal inquiry into the case of Maher Arar that CSIS would not necessarily reject information that might have been collected by others through practices that violate human rights.

CSIS says it subsequently altered the wording of letters it sends the government when entering into a sharing arrangement with a new foreign agency "to be more reflective" of this reality.

Arar, an Ottawa engineer, was deported to Syria and imprisoned in Damascus after being detained at a U.S. airport in September 2002. The inquiry is examining the role of Canadian officials in his case.