O'Connor recommends more oversight of RCMP, CSIS
Day pleased by call for stronger watchdog, but makes no promises
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
The Conservative government seized on a growing thirst for national security accountability yesterday, promising to consider recommendations for two bulked-up review bodies.
The recommendation came in the second part of Justice Dennis O'Connor's report into the Arar affair.
The report stopped short of recommending a review "super agency," as some experts expected, instead opting for a pair of bodies that will monitor the RCMP, CSIS and five other agencies involved with national security.
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said the government was pleased with the recommendations.
"I like the fact that there will be more review," said Mr. Day. "I like the fact that he's suggesting a co-ordinated approach to the review."
But Mr. Day wouldn't commit to implementing the recommendations, noting the government is still studying the report.
Mr. Arar called on the government to implement the recommendations "as soon as possible."
"Had there been proper and efficient oversight of these various departments and agencies, I might not have had to struggle so long, so hard for answers," Mr. Arar said. "Some of what happened to me might even have been prevented."
The first O'Connor report found that the RCMP mislabelled Mr. Arar as an Islamic extremist with suspected links to al-Qaeda. It also concluded that the sharing of that misinformation with U.S. authorities likely led the Americans to deport him to Syria. Mr. Arar was arrested in New York in 2002 and deported to Syria, where he was tortured for almost a year before being released and returning to Canada.
The second O'Connor report recommends two arm's-length bodies to review national security activities.
The first would be called the Independent Complaints and National Security Review Agency (ICRA) for the RCMP. Essentially, it will be a restructured version of the RCMP public complaints commission. The agency would have the power to investigate all RCMP activities, not just national security.
Judge O'Connor determined that existing accountability and review of the RCMP was "not adequate," partly because of the "inability of a complaints-based process" to ensure that secretive national security operations respect individual rights and freedoms.
Unlike the complaints commission, the new agency would have the authority to conduct self-initiated reviews. It would also have the power to subpoena documents and compel testimony from any individual or entity. The Canada Border Services Agency would also fall under its oversight. Judge O'Connor said he put the two agencies under one body because reviewing such agencies "requires special expertise and experience" in the field.
In a statement, the RCMP said any new review mechanism for its national security activities must be comprehensive enough to ensure public confidence is maintained without compromising the force's ability to do its job.
"Effective and appropriate review is essential for the RCMP and the public," said Assistant Commissioner Mike McDonell of RCMP National Security Investigations. "It reassures all of us that the RCMP is holding true to its values by respecting the rights and freedoms Canadians enjoy. At the same time, we would want to ensure that the RCMP is still able to fulfil its mandate."
Shirley Heafey, the now-retired head of the existing RCMP complaints commission, lamented that her office lacked the necessary powers and tools to probe the RCMP's national security activities. Ms. Heafey's successor, Paul Kennedy, has echoed her call for more authority to monitor RCMP intelligence investigations.
Judge O'Connor also recommended substantially expanding the mandate of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which now reviews the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
The expanded SIRC would also monitor the national security activities of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Transport Canada, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Tr ade.
If the recommendations are implemented, Canada would have three main national security review bodies: ICRA, SIRC and the commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment, which tracks foreign intelligence. Judge O'Connor suggests the heads of those offices, as well as another individual, form a committee to keep tabs on the review process and serve as a centralized "intake" for complaints.
He also recommends the appointment of an independent individual who would determine if the review objectives are being met in five years.
Some MPs questioned the report's lukewarm opinion on a parliamentary oversight committee that would also monitor national security activities.
Freya Kristjanson, one of the inquiry lawyers, said Judge O'Connor didn't touch on parliamentary oversight because that wasn't part of his mandate.
To view a video report on the Arar report, please go to Today's Videos at www.ottawacitizen.com
What the Acronyms Mean
ICRA: Independent Complaints and National Security Review Agency, a new body that would monitor the security activities of the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency.
SIRC: Security Intelligence Review Committee, already existing, which monitors CSIS, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.
CSE: Communications Security Establishment, now in existence, is the government's electronic spy agency.
Ran with fact box "What the Acronyms Mean", which has been appended to the story.
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