Oct. 21, 2004. 11:51 PM
Miro Cernetig 
Graham Fraser 
Richard Gwyn 
Stephen Handelman 
Chantal Hebert 
James Travers 
Ian Urquhart 
Thomas Walkom 
Watchdog wants transcripts of refugee interviews


OTTAWA The Canadian Security Intelligence Service should make transcripts of the interviews it conducts with refugee claimants to prevent future conflicts, says the watchdog over the spy agency.

In its annual report tabled in the Commons late Thursday, the Security Intelligence Review Committee calls on CSIS to produce ``verbatim records" when it questions claimants.

Such records would be "invaluable in the event that the contents of these interviews are disputed at a later date," the report says.

"Should the need arise, both the service and the interviewee could refer to such records and they would enable SIRC to reconstruct more accurately what transpired during the interview."

CSIS "chose not to accept" the recommendation for reasons that were relayed to the committee but not made public in the report.

The comments emerged from the review committee's first look at the CSIS "front-end screening" program for refugee claimants.

The committee found that, overall, the program was an improvement over past practices, which saw claimants sometimes live in Canada for years without having been vetted by CSIS for possible security concerns.

Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian native who lived in Montreal, remained in Canada for years before being caught at the U.S. border in December 1999 with a trunk full of explosives.

The watchdog also looked at CSIS's operations in other countries. While no problems were uncovered, the committee recommended a couple of policy changes.

"We intend to increase our scrutiny of CSIS's investigative activities abroad to determine for Parliament and Canadians whether the service is adhering fully to legislative and policy requirements," the committee says.

In separate reports from the Justice and Public Safety departments, the government revealed Thursday that authorities did not use special powers of interrogation and arrest under the Anti-Terrorism Act in the period of Dec. 24, 2002 to Dec. 23, 2003.

The measures, ushered in following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, permit police to make pre-emptive arrests and detain people on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack.

They also require anyone with information relevant to an investigation of a terrorist act to appear before a judge to provide details.

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