Canada’s spy watchdog needs more power, says Liberal MP

Canada’s spy watchdog needs more power, says Liberal MP

Liberal defense critic Joyce Murray says giving the Communications Security Establishment commissioner’s office more teeth to do its job may be more important than giving the agency more funding and resources.

The CSE commissioner is tasked with providing independent, external review of the country’s intelligence agencies to ensure they are complying with with Canadian law.

In a report tabled in the House of Commons this week, the commissioner’s office noted that cost-sharing with the CSE’s initiatives and “fiscal restraint measures are reducing the flexibility of the office’s available funding.”

The report suggests that as the CSE grows, the fiscal situation for the commissioner’s office isn’t keeping pace. According to the Toronto Star, the commissioner’s office has a team of about 10 people and a budget of $2 million. The CSE has over 2,000 employees and will be spending more than $500 million this year.

Murray noted in an interview with Yahoo Canada News that this “raises the concern of what kind of accountability is there for CSE when the only mechanism is the commissioner, and the commissioner doesn’t have enough resources to do his job, according to the commissioner himself.”

Murray said the CSE commissioner needs a stronger mandate to get the information he needs to do his job, which was the goal of her recent private member’s Bill C-622.

She said that although her private member’s bill, which did not pass in the House of Commons, wouldn’t have given the commissioner more resources in terms of funding, it would have addressed the concerns raised in the report tabled this week, albeit indirectly.

“So where he has to sit back and wait for cooperation and wait for information, he would have had a stronger mandate to get the information he needs,” she said.

“There is also provisions that would have more accountability regarding the sharing of information, either internally in government, or externally, to intelligence agencies from other countries,” Murray continued.

“And significantly, my bill called for the oversight by members of Parliament and senators.”

CSE is basically Canada’s version of the United States’s National Securities Agency and works within a global alliance called Five Eyes, which includes the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Canada. A lot of attention has been paid to CSE and its partners after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed how security organizations were conducting massive internet surveillance activities.

“The capability of information and communications technologies has sky-rocketed over the past 13 years,” Murray said in the House of Commons when she introduced her bill.

“However, the laws governing CSE have not changed once in that time. That means, whether they are being used or not, CSE now has much greater powers to intrude into the privacy of people’s personal lives and communications, unimpeded by the law.”

Unfortunately, in Murray’s eyes, the Conservative government has no interest in improving and strengthening the CSE commissioner’s office or in ensuring proper oversight for Canada’s spy agencies.

She said that Bill C-51, the government’s controversial anti-terror legislation that just wrapped up in committee with few amendments adopted, is an example of this. Almost every critic of the bill asked for parliamentary oversight of CSE and CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, but none of those amendments were adopted.

“Their refusal to contemplate what is almost universally accepted and agreed to be an important measure that is oversight by parliamentarians, is more evidence that Bill C-51 is political posturing on the part of this government. It’s not about good public policy,” Murray said.