Mar. 2, 2005. 06:52 AM
 
Miro Cernetig 
Graham Fraser 
Richard Gwyn 
Stephen Handelman 
Chantal Hebert 
James Travers 
Ian Urquhart 
Thomas Walkom 
Mountie secrets hinder rights monitor
Arar inquiry gets damning report
System poses risks: Watchdog

MICHELLE SHEPHARD
STAFF REPORTER

Canada needs a brand-new watchdog powerful enough to make the Mounties and spy agencies answerable to the public, says the head of the RCMP's complaints commission.

In the wake of the Maher Arar affair, action must be taken to compel co-operation from investigators in national security cases, Shirley Heafey said in a report released yesterday.

Lack of co-operation from the RCMP has prevented her from doing her job in several investigations, Heafey said in a submission to the Arar commission.

As a first step in the overhaul of the watchdog system, Heafey wants the powers of her own agency the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP beefed up.

In a damning report, she criticizes the RCMP for withholding information from the civilian review agency in an effort to cover up wrongdoing.

She cited her frustration at not having the authority to compel co-operation from the Mounties. She said she should be able to decide what information is relevant, compel testimony and require the production of documents.

Her report points to various cases where her agency was unable to conduct a proper investigation because of lack of disclosure by the RCMP.

They include:

A 1999 probe into the RCMP's conduct during an altercation over fishing rights in Miramichi Bay, N.B.

A current investigation following a woman's allegation of being singled out for a terrorism case because her family is Arab.

"There is little doubt that there are significant gaps in the existing system of review of RCMP activities, which means that, at this moment, the government cannot ensure that misconduct within the RCMP is being effectively monitored," Heafey wrote in the report released yesterday.

But her report goes beyond offering recommendations on how to fix the problems her agency experiences when investigating the RCMP.

It suggests the creation of a central agency called the "National Security Review Commission," with the power to conduct investigations of all federal agencies involved in security and terrorism cases.

"The existing patchwork approach to civilian review of national security activities poses significant risks for rights and freedoms, since these are the principles that may be compromised when national security activities are permitted to go unchecked," she wrote.

"The increasing occurrence of national security activities a reality with which we live in Canada in 2005 warrants the establishment of a potent review body that can peer behind the cloak of secrecy to reassure the rest of us that things are working as they should."

There are more than a dozen agencies that are involved in security cases, including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS); the Department of National Defence; Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada; and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE).

Both CSIS and CSE are independently reviewed, similar to the RCMP. Heafey's proposal for a national review agency, consisting of only three full-time members, suggests these review committees should report to the central agency, which would also have the ability to oversee other federal agencies.

Heafey's report was submitted to the federal inquiry probing the involvement of Canadian officials in the deportation and detention of Arar, 34.

There are two parts to the inquiry the hearings to determine what happened to Ar ar (which are being held behind closed doors until May) and a policy review to recommend models for an arm's-length review mechanism for the RCMP.

Arar was detained at New York's JFK airport as a terrorism suspect on Sept. 26, 2002 and held for two weeks before being deported to Syria as part of a controversial U.S. practice known as extraordinary rendition.



In December, an official of the U.S. State Department wrote in a letter to an American congressman that Arar was on a terrorist watch list because of information received from Canada.

The RCMP's role in security investigations was greatly diminished with the creation of the Canada's spy service 20 years ago.

But after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the Criminal Code was amended to include terrorism charges, allowing the RCMP to begin investigating terrorist activity in Canada again and leading to the creation of RCMP-led anti-terrorism units. One of these units reportedly investigated Arar.

Heafey said in an interview yesterday that to effectively monitor the RCMP, her agency and not the RCMP has to be granted the ability to decide what evidence is relevant, and must be able to conduct independent audits rather than just respond to complaints.

"Information is the lifeblood of an effective public complaint process," she wrote.

"Without it, the (Commission for Public Complaints) cannot do the job entrusted to it by Parliament. The difficulty of accessing information is one of the main stumbling blocks to the effectiveness of the current review system."

The RCMP would not comment yesterday on Heafey's report, but the RCMP's submission to the Arar inquiry notes the review agency has the power to call an inquiry and summon any evidence required.

The RCMP submission also suggests the courts and federal ministers already provide adequate monitoring of the force's actions.

"The fact is that all national security-related investigations are undertaken with the objective of criminal prosecution. While it is true that some investigations do not end in a prosecution, it is impossible for an investigator to know, during an investigation, whether or not his or her actions will later be scrutinized by a court," the RCMP submission states.

"The demands on RCMP personnel to meet the requests of additional review processes may adversely impact the benefits from having those investigators working to prevent terrorism, potentially causing investigational effectiveness to crumble under the weight of review."

Liberal MP Derek Lee, chairman of an interim parliamentary committee that just finished a study of how national security is reviewed, said the government should ignore Heafey's recommendation for new national watchdog agency.

Lee (Scarborough-Rouge River) blasted Heafey's recommendations as "too simplistic" and an example of the kind of "empire-building" that is going on as Ottawa tries to adjust its intelligence-gathering and counter-terrorism operations in the post-9/11 era.

"She's essentially saying we need something else here to take a look at all of this stuff. While it's well-intentioned, I don't think the bald statement that we need something else here is good enough to fly with."

Lee says a more effective and less expensive way to review security operations, and make sure government agents do not break the law or violate civil liberties, is to create a stronger parliamentary oversight body that can demand information from security agencies, in confidence, without endangering operations.

"We have to avoid turning oversight into an industry and putting obstacles in the way of good efficient security functions," said Lee. "You can overdo it. What we don't need is another institution, another layer and another hodge-podge of oversight.

"I think the Commission for Public Complaints should stick to its knitting, and I say that publicly, and I hope it's heard.

"I think they do a reasonable job of that, but they should not be making pretensions at being a civilian oversight or a civilian review or a civilian management body for the RCMP. It's just not going to happen."

Lee said Prime Minister Paul Martin has already publicly said he wants to increase parliamentary accountability for national security activities.

The interim committee on national security submitted confidential recommendations to Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan and expects a formal response before the end of March to proposals on how a more permanent committee should work.

Heafey said yesterday she too supports stronger parliamentary powers but said this cannot replace a new review body that could look at all federal departments.

With files from Tonda MacCharles

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