A lawyer for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says the terms spelled out in a civil liberties group's complaint are "overly broad" and must be "better defined."
At issue is how far the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the watchdog over CSIS, can delve into the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association's complaint about alleged spying on groups concerned about Canadian energy policy.
CSIS is trying to hide the reasons it monitored environmental groups, said Paul Champ, lawyer for the civil liberties association.
"We need to know why these groups are being surveilled and those reasons need to be clearly put before the committee," Champ said Monday.
The association filed the complaint with the review committee in February after media reports suggested that CSIS and other government agencies consider opposition to the petroleum industry as a threat to national security.
The complaint letter also cited reports that CSIS had shared information with the National Energy Board about so-called "radicalized environmentalist" groups seeking to participate in the board's hearings on Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline project, which would see Alberta crude flow westward to Kitimat, B.C.
The groups included Leadnow, ForestEthics Advocacy Association, the Council of Canadians, the Dogwood Initiative, EcoSociety, the Sierra Club of British Columbia, and aboriginal rights movement Idle No More.
The civil liberties association said it expected the investigation to address why CSIS monitors the groups, the length of time it has been doing so, and the authority or law allowing such surveillance.
The association also wanted to know why — and under what authority — CSIS has shared intelligence with the petroleum industry, as well as copies of any notes, transcripts or recordings it has passed along.
In a Sept. 22 letter to the review committee, federal lawyer Stephanie Dion wrote on behalf of CSIS that while the intelligence service acknowledges the civil liberties association's role, its complaint must be pared back to a "discrete act or thing" CSIS has done.
"The committee must be cautious in allowing a complainant to initiate, by way of a complaint, a review of the service's investigations regarding domestic threats and information sharing with Canadian government agencies without specific information to support the allegations," says Dion's letter, which was copied to Champ.
"The committee ought not to allow itself to become a proxy of the (civil liberties association) in a matter which falls within the ambit of a review and not a complaint."
CSIS proposes the review committee investigation be limited to whether the spy service:
— Investigated groups or individuals for involvement in lawful protest activities related to the Northern Gateway project and, if so, was the investigation lawful?
— Provided information about groups or individuals involved in lawful protests against the Northern Gateway project with the National Energy Board or non-governmental members of the oil industry and, if so, was it lawful to do so?
CSIS will disclose only documents from 2012 onward since a routine review committee study cleared the agency of spying on legitimate protesters through Dec. 31, 2011, added Dion, a lawyer with the Justice Department's national security litigation division.
Champ rejects the "disingenuous characterization" of the association's complaint to the review committee, known as SIRC.
"Basically, CSIS is saying that it never monitors groups for engaging in lawful advocacy or protest activities and we should accept it at its word," he said. "SIRC shouldn't accept CSIS' bald assertions as fact. Saying 'trust us' simply isn't good enough."
Dion proposed a "management conference" to define the inquiry's scope. Champ said no discussion had yet been scheduled.
The civil liberties association has its own concerns about the complaint process, objecting to the watchdog's choice of review committee member Yves Fortier — who has past oil-industry ties — to lead the probe.
Champ has written to the committee asking that Fortier recuse himself from the matter since he once sat on the board of TransCanada Pipelines — the company behind the Keystone XL project.
In the House of Commons, NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison said Monday that any investigation of CSIS must be above suspicion and he called on Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney "to address the conflict-of-interest."
Blaney said he's confident the committee will impartially review CSIS efforts to protect Canadians from activists or radicals.
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