CSIS records should not be destroyed: Watchdog

Posted by admin on Nov 21st, 2005

CSIS policy on records hit. Material should be kept: Watchdog. Toronto Star

Canada’s spy service should stop destroying original notes or recordings, the chair of the service’s civilian oversight committee says. Gary Filmon said in an interview that one of his priorities as the new chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee is to push for a change in the security service’s policy that requires employees to shred or erase original material, arguing that there are cases where information can be stored without infringing on the privacy rights of Canadians.

“To just have a blanket (direction to) destroy after such and such a period of time doesn’t make sense to us and that’s what we’re saying to CSIS,” said Filmon, a former Manitoba premier, who became SIRC’s chair in June.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has been criticized for years about the destruction of original material. The practice was most recently questioned in a SIRC report written by Filmon’s predecessor, Paule Gauthier. In reviewing a CSIS decision to deny Bhupinder Singh Liddar security clearance for a consular appointment to India’s Punjab, Gauthier slammed the service for destroying notes and accused it of lying and manipulating information.

Defence lawyers, who are often faced in court or immigration hearings with the word of a CSIS agent against the word of their client, are also frustrated by the policy. “I cannot help but be suspicious of anybody who destroys evidence in a matter that is still alive and litigious,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann.

In an interview with the Star in September, CSIS director Jim Judd said he was working with Filmon and his legal department to make sure the Liddar report was addressed. Others inside CSIS say the issue of record keeping is one of the key matters now being debated.

When taking over the responsibility for domestic intelligence from the discredited RCMP’s security service in 1984, CSIS sought to strike a balance between personal rights and security. CSIS intelligence is meant to be kept confidential, and outside of the courtroom.

But Filmon believes that, in cases that may be challenged, records should be kept.

In a recent interview with the Star, Filmon stressed the importance of his agency in building the public’s confidence in CSIS and said that SIRC’s power is known internationally.

“Other similar overview or review bodies say to us you have greater powers than any of the others that they’ve looked at and that is … the power to see every piece of information that is in the files, every communication, whether it’s written, electronic or other forms. We can get into the raw data that they keep on all issues that they deal with. This seems to be unprecedented internationally as we’re told.”

And those powers could expand. Filmon appeared recently before Justice Dennis O’Connor, who will be making recommendations to the government for an arms-length review body for the Mounties.

Although the RCMP public complaints commission now reviews the Mounties, the former head of that agency complained that she lacked the resources and power to investigate security cases.

Filmon said he believes SIRC could expand its role to also review the actions of the Mounties. He said Norway and the United Kingdom have already established similar review bodies that look at security cases conducted by both their police and intelligence services.

“We are not trolling for more business,” said Filmon.

“We’re just simply saying if you look at it from a logical standpoint, because we have all these elements in place, it probably is a more effective way of doing it.”

Comments are closed.