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4, vol 103 -- September 27, 1999

Intelligence agency spies on students
brooke larsen, associate news editor

Students and teachers might want to watch what they say in the classroom from now on.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service recently gained increased powers to recruit and direct spies on university campuses across Canada.

The agency's goal is to monitor and prevent terrorist activity and foreign espionage. Many wonder why they are spying on schools.

"CSIS has no business snooping on students who might have wild idea - even anarchists, for example, who are espousing the overthrow of the government," said John Westwood, spokesman for the BC Civil Liberties Association.

Universities have been watched because they are seen as places of left-wing subversion, but the agency is forbidden from general surveillance of campuses.

Since it began in 1984, CSIS was given special instructions by the Solicitor General regarding post-secondary institutions - that they are venues where students and teachers should exchange ideas freely.

"Really CSIS only has two sorts of targets. One are agents of foreign governments and the other are terrorists," West explained. "CSIS is expressly forbidden from targeting individuals for their beliefs."

A recent directive gives the agency's ministers permission to approve of their informants' activities without consulting the director, but only under exigent circumstances. Westwood wonders what the term 'exigent circumstances' actually means.

"CSIS is a very secretive agency. Regular citizens have no way of knowing how strictly within its mandate it is keeping," he finished.

Third year Criminology student Karen Morgan doesn't like the implications of spies at universities. "I can't see why they would need to be watching students when there are so many other things they could be doing."

And although she sees the necessity, Morgan finds the entire concept disturbing. "Universities tend to be havens for free speech, political groups and new ideas, but if there is reason to believe that someone is a terrorist, I guess there's no other way."

Stuart Farson is a political science professor and is part of an organization called the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies (CASIS), which follows intelligence matters.

According to Farson, the latest directive isn't the issue for debate. Instead, he says, students and teachers should worry about CSIS's overall acountability.

"We can't declare that university informants should be outlawed, but we can make sure they are tightly controlled," he states.

"The major concern here is whether this will create a chilling affect amoung students and teachers."

The professor speculates that the publicity surrounding CSIS probably won't have an effect on Parliament's handling of the matter. "As far as I'm concerned Parliment has behaved abysmally. I'm not happy with the accountability scheme that currently exists."

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