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CSIS watchdog hampered by delays
Jim Bronskill
Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- The federal watchdog over the Canadian Security Intelligence Service warns her effectiveness could be hindered by the spy agency's delays in handing over crucial information.

In a top secret document prepared for Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan, CSIS Inspector General Eva Plunkett says she has "become concerned" the service's tardiness is unduly interfering with her work.

Plunkett, appointed inspector general in December 2003 after a 28-year career in the solicitor general's portfolio, acts as the minister's "eyes and ears" with regard to CSIS.

A declassified version of her first certificate, an annual report card to the minister, was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The inspector general is entitled to broad access to files held by the spy service -- a tenet that Plunkett notes CSIS has continued to respect.

"Nonetheless, I have become concerned about the delays I have witnessed in CSIS affording access to me and my staff to information, reports, responses and explanations," says the report.

"I have no reason to believe that such delays are occasioned by anything other than administrative inefficiencies and heavy workloads."

Still, she believes being forced to wait "could function as a tacit limitation" to her office's legal entitlement to information.

In a rare interview, Plunkett said she and her staff eventually obtained all of the information needed to complete the certificate in November.

"But because we have only a small staff complement, extra effort was needed on our part to be able to review all that material in a more compressed time-frame than I would have liked," she said.

"So that's one of the reasons it was flagged. It's a very critical element in our relationship with the service."

Plunkett's report says that during discussions with senior CSIS officials she received the "assurance of their full attention and co-operation to address the issue of delays."

"Over the coming year it will be one of my priorities to continue work with the service to address and successfully resolve my concern here."

CSIS spokeswoman Barbara Campion said the service is "fully committed" to meeting its obligations to the inspector general and the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the civilian watchdog over CSIS that reports to Parliament.

"Interacting with the review bodies and getting them access to information is a priority," Campion said. "So we do our best."

She attributed any delays to "increased demands" various recent initiatives placed on the service: development of a national security policy, the federal creation of a cross-cultural roundtable on security, a parliamentary review of the Anti-Terrorism Act and the federal commission of inquiry into the Maher Arar case.

The inspector general's certificate, which covers the year ending last March 31, is based on her review of CSIS activities and operations.

Plunkett and her staff studied judicial warrants permitting wiretaps, CSIS relations with foreign counterparts and the spy service's management of confidential sources.

The inspector general also received a series of comprehensive briefings from CSIS on subjects including counter-intelligence, scientific and technical services and the security certificate process used to deport individuals deemed threats to Canada.

Overall, Plunkett found the service "exercises its duties and functions with a commendable degree of professionalism that serves Canadians well indeed."


© The Canadian Press 2005

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