The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), the five-person board of political appointees that examines CSIS’s operations, has tapped chair Chuck Strahl to investigate the claim put by longtime activist Ken Stone.
In July, Stone made a formal complaint to SIRC about a Jan. 25 visit by CSIS agents to his Mountain home.
Stone, long a vocal labour and anti-racism advocate, said the agents asked him about an op-ed he wrote titled “Harper is wrong in demonizing Iran” that was published in the Jan. 11 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.
In his letter to SIRC, the 67-year-old alleges that the visit was intended “to intimidate me and members of my family from lawfully exercising our Charter rights to freedom of expression and association” and, counter to CSIS’s mandate, did not address a meaningful security threat.
The visit, he wrote, “caused me and my family a considerable amount of anxiety.” He has asked for a formal apology from CSIS as well as statement from SIRC demanding that CSIS “cease and desist from home and workplace visits to residents of Canada that are designed to intimidate residents of Canada from exercising their Charter rights.”
Last week, Stone received a letter stating that SIRC will hold hearings into the case, but a date for the proceedings has not been set.
Stone said he plans to attend the hearings in Ottawa, and will retain a lawyer to help him make his case.
Both 'pleased' and 'disappointed'
Stone said he’s pleased the committee has chosen to take on his case, but he is doubtful that the process will yield the answers he seeks.
“On the one hand, I’m pleased that they have taken up the complaint because they had the discretion not to take up the complaint. The fact that they chose to take it up is a good sign,” he said.
However, Stone said he’s “disappointed” that Strahl, a former Conservative MP and federal cabinet minister, has been assigned to investigate the case.
“He’s a Conservative Party hack and I don’t expect a lot of sympathy from him.”
That Strahl and his fellow SIRC members are political appointees “shows a fundamental problem with oversight over CSIS,” Stone added.
Committee members, he said, would put their jobs at risk if they slammed the government’s policies, and neither CSIS nor Parliament are required to adopt SIRC’s recommendations.
Contacted by CBC Hamilton on Thursday, SIRC said it would not be able to respond to Stone's criticism. But in an interview with CBC Hamilton in March, SIRC senior counsel Sylvie Roussel defended the committee's integrity.
"We have a process and we follow that process," she said, noting that panel members "take their role very seriously."
'Canadians deserve better'
Jean Paul Duval, a spokesman with Public Safety Canada, said the ministry does not comment on specific cases.
However, in an email statement to CBC Hamilton, defended SIRC's review process.
"SIRC is at arm’s length from the Government and provides independent review that CSIS activities comply with law and Ministerial Direction," he wrote.
When Stone first went public about the CSIS visit in the winter, he initially said he would not go through with making a complaint to SIRC, figuring it would be futile exercise. He later decided he wanted to his grievance on record, regardless of the outcome.
On Thursday, Stone said he hopes the government will eventually adopt an civilian oversight body — akin to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission — that is independent and not led by political appointees.
"All in all, it’s not a satisfactory oversight process,” Stone said. “Canadians deserve better."