Critics call for closer eye on CSIS following constitutional violations
October 31, 2007 - 18:46
OTTAWA - Members of Parliament called for closer scrutiny of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service following revelations the spy agency violated the constitutional rights of a citizen.
Opposition critics demanded fuller assurances from Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day on Wednesday that CSIS would respect the Charter of Rights.
In its annual report tabled late Tuesday, the Security Intelligence Review Committee said Canada's spy agency "arbitrarily detained" Mohammed Mansour Jabarah in contravention of the Charter.
Jabarah, a Canadian citizen, is an admitted al-Qaida member and leader of a terrorist cell that plotted to bomb the American and Israeli embassies in Singapore and Manila. He was apprehended in Oman in March 2002 after the plan was dashed.
The report found Jabarah's subsequent decisions - made without the benefit of independent legal advice - resulted in his self-incrimination and surrender to U.S. authorities.
"Jabarah is a terrorist but also a Canadian citizen, and no matter how despicable his actions, the Charter conferred on him certain fundamental rights," the review committee says in the report to Parliament.
The committee also concluded CSIS "strayed from its security intelligence mandate into the area of law enforcement."
Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh said he had no sympathy for Jabarah, who grew up in southern Ontario.
"But we have a society that believes in fundamental fairness, reflected ultimately in the Charter provisions."
Day must receive "very clear public undertakings from CSIS that CSIS will rectify its procedures and obviously deal with these issues in a way that is respectful of Charter rights."
Dosanjh said it's time to study watchdog procedures in the United States, where congressional oversight committees have substantial powers. "We should be looking at something of that nature in our country so that parliamentarians can more appropriately play the role that they should be playing."
NDP public safety critic Penny Priddy said there has already been a great deal of discussion about oversight of CSIS.
She took issue with the claim of Day's office that the Jabarah episode unfolded when the Liberals were in office.
"To say it happened under a previous government doesn't mean that you should not have fixed it," she said.
"I want to know what they're going to do, how fast are they going to do it, what are the action steps they're going to take and who's going to be accountable."
CSIS spokeswoman Manon Berube referred inquiries Wednesday to Day's office.
"The ministry wants to answer the calls right now, wants to respond to the media on SIRC. So we have to respect that."
Day was "unavailable" for an interview Wednesday, said his spokeswoman Melisa Leclerc.
In an e-mail message, she said Day had received assurances in a letter from CSIS director Jim Judd that the service's operations comply with the Charter and the laws of Canada.
Leclerc added that the government would bring forward "comprehensive and robust security and intelligence review measures in the very near future," including a new national security committee of parliamentarians.
The review committee report said CSIS officials went to Oman and engineered Jabarah's return to Canada and subsequent transfer to the United States on a government-owned aircraft, since he could not be charged with a crime under Canadian law.
In the United States he pleaded guilty to a number of terrorism-related offences. Jabarah remains behind bars, awaiting his sentence.
The review committee was told by a CSIS investigator that Jabarah was not "read his rights" because CSIS is not a police service - a response the committee said "demonstrates a misunderstanding of the application of the Charter to government representatives carrying out their official duties."
The committee concluded that Jabarah was "arbitrarily detained" by CSIS in violation of the Charter, and that his rights to silence, to legal counsel and to remain in Canada were breached.