June 8, 2006

Foreign spies mulled

Conservatives seek MP input on idea to establish new CIA-like agency


OTTAWA -- The Conservative government could create a new foreign spy agency to beef up Canada's national security, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said yesterday.

Facing questions about Canada's intelligence-gathering capacity at home and abroad in the wake of the weekend's terrorism bust, Day said he wants MPs to study whether it's best to expand CSIS' operations abroad or to establish a new independent, CIA-like foreign spy agency.

"We want to hear from MPs from all sides, from Canadians and experts in the field as to how best that could be done," he said.

Day wouldn't comment on how much it might cost to add foreign intelligence gathering capacity, but said the government will spend more to keep Canadians safe and secure.

NDP MP Joe Comartin said Canada is under "tremendous pressure" from the U.S., U.K. and Australia to strengthen foreign intelligence capacity, but he insisted it makes no sense to create a new agency.

"We've got something like 12 agencies now that do a lot of intelligence work in gathering and enforcement, so it doesn't make sense to create a new one," he said.

Comartin said potential costs would depend on the new agency's scope and how broad a net it casts abroad. Right now, CSIS is limited in its mandate and functions abroad, but a new agency could be granted broader powers.

As for other Canadian laws to crack down on terrorists, Day said there could be changes in the future. But he noted the Toronto arrests occurred with existing laws and were widely deemed successful.

"Our minds are never closed in terms of possible legislative improvements," he said.

"The investigation, how it unfolds and the subsequent court process will show if there's weaknesses in law."