RCMP chief says he hopes MPs don't name politicians accused of aiding foreign powers in the House

RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024.  (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The head of RCMP says he's uneasy with the idea that politicians could use their parliamentary privilege to name colleagues accused of aiding foreign powers.

Earlier this month, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), a cross-party committee of MPs and senators with top security clearances, released a heavily redacted document alleging — based on intelligence reports — that some parliamentarians have been "semi-witting or witting" participants in the efforts of foreign states to interfere in Canadian politics.

The RCMP has said anyone who leaks classified intelligence could be charged under Canada's secrets law. The Liberal government has still faced pressure from the Conservatives and others to release the names of those cited in the report on the floor of the House of Commons, where MPs enjoy parliamentary privilege protecting them from arrest.

It's not a scenario RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme wants to think about.

"I'm inclined to say that would be a challenge for us. If it was out in the public domain, it'd be different because you're disclosing top secret information," he said in an interview with Rosemary Barton Live.

"Let's hope we don't have to cross that road."

WATCH | Top Mountie says naming names from NSICOP report would pose 'a challenge for us' 

Duheme said he'll let the government decide how best to handle the situation, but urged caution.

"But I am concerned if we're starting to disclose secret or top secret information," he said. "It could put in peril tradecraft, partnerships, especially international partnerships."

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who had the proper security clearance to read the unredacted report earlier this month, said it contains "no list of MPs who have shown disloyalty to Canada."

NDP Leader Jagmet Singh also read the classified report and said he's "more convinced than ever" that some parliamentarians are "willing participants" in foreign states' efforts to interfere in Canadian politics.

A party spokesperson later said that Singh's comments should not be taken as confirming or denying that the parliamentarians cited in the report are currently serving.

After the NSICOP report was made public, the RCMP issued a statement that said the force "did not receive information regarding all the matters contained in the report."

Duheme told Rosemary Barton Live that since then, the RCMP has circled back with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to see if there are any avenues for further investigation.

"I'll just leave it at that. But when we have the necessary information to launch a criminal investigation, we will launch a criminal investigation," he said.

Intelligence to evidence dilemma 'frustrating': Duheme 

In its report, NSICOP cited what it called "numerous instances" in the course of its review of intelligence agencies failing to share information with law enforcement bodies, including the RCMP.

It called this a "critical gap" and proposed a government review.

The use of intelligence as evidence has been a long-standing point of contention among Canada's security agencies, the police and the courts.

The so-called "intelligence to evidence" dilemma involves striking a balance between the need to shield sensitive intelligence and law enforcement's use of that information, along with the need to protect an accused's right to a fair trial.

Duheme added the RCMP has an "excellent relationship" with CSIS but the problems involved in using intelligence as evidence have plagued the two agencies for years.

"We know sometimes it's a challenge and it's frustrating," he said.

"I think we've got to bring these people, who are far smarter than me, to the table and see how do we isolate that and introduce it into a criminal investigation. But you know what? It's not an easy fix because we've been at it for several years."