OTTAWA (CP) -- In a bid to keep a tighter rein on the RCMP's national security probes, the federal government has quietly ordered the Mounties to obtain ministerial approval before co-operating with a foreign spy service, The Canadian Press has learned.
The order is among several restrictions placed on the RCMP's security investigators amid public concern about potential abuses in the fight against terrorism.
The RCMP received new anti-terrorism powers and additional funding after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States but the rules concerning cabinet scrutiny of the force's security role did not change.
The three formal directives are intended "to enhance ministerial accountability of the RCMP's national security activities in the post-September 11 environment," say notes obtained Thursday under the Access to Information Act.
Among the instructions in the various directives, issued early last November by then-Solicitor General Wayne Easter:
-- Require ministerial approval prior to the RCMP co-operating or entering into an arrangement with a foreign security or intelligence service.
-- Set out guidelines for entering such arrangements, including a requirement to consult with the Foreign Affairs Department.
-- Establish that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service is the lead agency for liaison and co-operation with foreign security or intelligence services.
-- Require the RCMP commissioner to report to the minister on "any potentially controversial issue" arising from collaboration with foreign agencies, and use judgment as to informing the minister of "high-profile RCMP investigations."
One directive provides guidance to the Mounties on investigating "sensitive sectors" of society, including academia, politics, religion, the media and trade unions.
"With regards to university or post-secondary campuses, in particular, it is paramount that the investigations undertaken by the RCMP do not impact upon the free flow and exchange of ideas normally associated with an academic milieu."
Probes touching on these segments of society must be approved by a senior officer at RCMP headquarters.
The orders were issued at the height of the outcry over Maher Arar, an Ottawa engineer deported to Syria by U.S. officials on suspicion of terrorism.
A commission of inquiry is probing what role the Mounties and other Canadian authorities may have played in Arar's ordeal. He denies any involvement in terrorism.
The directives were in the works well before the Arar case, said Paul Kennedy, a senior assistant deputy minister with the Public Safety Department, which has assumed the functions of the solicitor general's portfolio.
"There were discussions ongoing for a while," Kennedy said.
"This is just good management in terms of a minister looking at a new environment."
Arar has filed suit against the government in Federal Court, accusing agencies including the RCMP and CSIS of investigating him "on the basis of racial and cultural stereotypes."
The three directives are the first issued to the RCMP specifically governing national security activities since the RCMP Security Service was effectively replaced by CSIS in 1984.
For most of the last century, the RCMP had broad responsibilities for security and intelligence as well as policing. But scandals and civil rights breaches -- including opening mail and burning down a barn -- led to disbandment of the force's security service.
The government announced plans in December to set up an independent "review mechanism" to monitor the RCMP's intelligence branches. It has asked the Arar inquiry to recommend models for doing so.