|Dec. 12, 2003. 04:55 PM|
Move follows questions about Arar case
OTTAWA (CP) - The federal government is creating a new watchdog to oversee the RCMP's intelligence activities, a move that comes amid growing concern about the behind-the-scenes role the Mounties play in the fight against terrorism.
The independent "review mechanism" to keep an eye on RCMP actions in the area of national security was among the changes announced today by new Prime Minister Paul Martin.
Critics have long expressed concern the RCMP's security work undergoes little scrutiny compared with the attention given the activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the national spy agency.
The criticism reached a peak recently with questions about any part the RCMP may have played in the arrest of Ottawa engineer Maher Arar in the United States and his subsequent deportation to Syria on suspicion of terrorism.
Arar, a Canadian citizen who denies any terrorist involvement, endured months of torture behind bars in the Middle Eastern country where he was born.
It was not immediately clear how the new review agency would work with the existing Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, which recently began an investigation into the Arar case.
Complaints commission chairwoman Shirley Heafey said today she was "thrilled" the government plans to bring in the new watchdog.
The RCMP "will co-operate fully" with the decision to create the new body, said Staff Sgt. Paul Marsh, a force spokesman.
For decades, 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 RCMP Security Service.
In 1984, many of the RCMP's security functions were handed to the newly created CSIS.
However, the RCMP has continued to conduct undercover security investigations, sometimes working alongside CSIS to probe radical animal rights activists, suspected Islamic terrorists and anti-globalization protesters.