Canada’s spy agency misses accountability mark set by Supreme Court, says report

Posted by admin on May 20th, 2011

By Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press, May 20 2011

OTTAWA – Canada’s spy service has failed to meet strict new accountability standards set by the Supreme Court, says a watchdog report obtained by The Canadian Press. The latest annual review from the inspector general of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says the spy agency hasn’t lived up to a high-court ruling that requires it to retain all operational notes, electronic intercepts and other investigative material.

Almost three years ago, in the case of Montrealer Adil Charkaoui, the country’s top court found the agency’s destruction of notes violated its legal duty to keep documentation and — out of fairness — disclose the material during judicial proceedings.

Charkaoui, a native of Morocco, was arrested in 2003 under a national security certificate for suspected terrorist links. He was set free in 2009 after the case buckled and the certificate was quashed.

As a result of the 2008 high court decision, CSIS made it a policy to file away all notes and other information that make up a case record. The agency also gave personnel a training seminar on note-keeping.

During her review, CSIS inspector general Eva Plunkett asked the service for original, hard-copy notes cited in agency reports.

“In a number of cases the service was unable to locate hard copies of the operational notes,” Plunkett wrote.
After further examination, CSIS determined that its own reports were wrong and that no notes had been taken to support the information in them, she found.

The spy service also had trouble figuring out the process for referring to original notes — a problem Plunkett considered “significant.”

“One must know where to look to determine whether operational notes exist and where to find them for retrieval and future reference,” says her review.

CSIS “continues to review, revise and update” its record-keeping policies to ensure they “address evolving operational realities and responsibilities,” CSIS spokeswoman Isabelle Scott said Friday.

The Canadian Press obtained a declassified version of Plunkett’s top secret November 2010 evaluation under the Access to Information Act. As inspector general, she serves as the public safety minister’s “eyes and ears” on the intelligence service.

Overall, Plunkett concluded CSIS had not strayed outside the law, contravened ministerial direction or exercised its powers “unreasonably or unnecessarily.” She also praised CSIS employees for their “level of commitment and dedication,” saying they “deserve our respect and appreciation.”

However, in addition to record-keeping infractions, Plunkett unearthed several additional problems, including a burgeoning number of mistakes in the spy service’s reporting.

“Unfortunately the rate of errors continues to grow.”

Once errors — even small ones such as incorrect interview dates — are introduced, it can result in wrong information being shared or forming the basis for operational decisions, her review says.

“The potential negative consequences that errors of this type could have on service investigations, and on individuals affected by the use of service information, cannot be overstated.”

Plunkett says accuracy is essential if CSIS is to make fair and balanced use of the information it collects.

“When errors of this nature do come to light, they have a highly detrimental effect on the service’s credibility both with Canadians, the judicial system and with other intelligence agencies.

“Improvements can be seen in some areas but it continues to be a real issue in others.”

CSIS spokeswoman Scott said the service had “corrected the errors in our processes. The overall impact has been minimal.”

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