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Security oversight too diffuse, SIRC chief says

OTTAWA -- Many complaints about the conduct of national security investigations cannot be fully and properly investigated because of divisions of authority even within the federal government, said Gary Filmon, chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee.

More than 20 federal agencies and departments perform a national security function, Mr. Filmon, the former Progressive Conservative premier of Manitoba, said yesterday.

Yet SIRC, his watchdog panel, can investigate the activities of only one, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, he told the Maher Arar commission.

The fact that the federal government had to create the Arar commission of inquiry illustrates the point.


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The commission, under Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor, is investigating whether CSIS, the RCMP, the Department of Foreign Affairs or any other federal agency played a role in Mr. Arar's deportation to Syria in 2002 because neither SIRC nor the RCMP complaints commission could do a complete job.

Mr. Filmon said it was going to become even more difficult for SIRC to effectively monitor the conduct of security investigations as CSIS joins forces more frequently with the RCMP and local police forces in joint operations and integrated intelligence units.

Judge O'Connor is hearing witnesses from various watchdog bodies and human-rights groups this week on how to plug the gaps in the oversight system.

Warren Allmand, a former Liberal solicitor-general and minister responsible for the RCMP, called for a "super-SIRC."

The body could investigate national security activities of CSIS, the Mounties, the Communications Security Establishment -- a defence agency that intercepts telecommunications -- and any other department dealing with security issues, Mr. Allmand said.

"The new super-SIRC must be able to follow the evidence wherever it may lead," he said. He was representing the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, a coalition of non-governmental organizations, churches, unions, environmental advocates and civil-rights advocates set up to monitor the application of Canada's anti-terrorism legislation

Mr. Allmand said security agencies were working together, formally and informally, and may be sharing intelligence that is unreliable. The Arar case shows "people are hurt by unreliable information and sloppy work," he said.

Because of the secrecy surrounding security cases, Mr. Allmand said, bad intelligence means "you could lose a job, or not get a job . . . or you get sent to Syria."

Mr. Arar was deported to Syria by the United States as an al-Qaeda suspect. An independent fact-finder for the commission of inquiry reported that Mr. Arar was tortured during a year in Syrian custody.

Mr. Allmand said that when he was the minister responsible for the RCMP in the 1970s, he discovered that the force often had misinformation about people in security files, based on untested hearsay.

In the murky world of national security, Mr. Allmand said, a citizen may have a complaint and "know something is being done to him, but he doesn't know by whom. Maybe it's Immigration. Maybe it's Foreign Affairs."

A "super-SIRC" would be able to get to the bottom of things, Mr. Allmand said.

Canadian Arabs and Muslims do not have a great deal of confidence in the review and oversight system as a result of their experience after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to Riad Saloojee, spokesman for the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations.

About two dozen individuals were "stigmatized as terrorists and subsequently vindicated," but only one got any kind of an apology, Mr. Saloojee said.

He called for a "robust and activist watchdog" to oversee the activities of security agencies.

Paul Kennedy, the new chairman of the RCMP complaints commission, said his body needs greater powers to investigate the Mounties, including the right to subpoena all documents and records held by the force.