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New police power laws need 'evidence-based' approach, say watchdogs

10/29/2014 08:55 EDT | Updated 12/29/2014 05:59 EST
Canada's access to information and privacy watchdogs are calling on the government to make sure that any move to boost the powers of police and intelligence agencies will be evidence-based and have effective oversight mechanisms to ensure "fundamental rights and freedoms" are upheld. 

"We acknowledge that security is essential to maintaining our democratic rights," the statement notes.

"At the same time, the response to such events must be measured and proportionate, and crafted so as to preserve our democratic values."

To that end, they want to see the government "adopt an evidence-based approach" in considering any boost to existing intelligence and police powers, and to ensure that any new measures include "effective oversight."

They also want to see an "open and transparent dialogue" with Canadians "on whether new measures are required, and if so, on their nature, scope, and impact on rights and freedoms."

Federal, provincial and territorial commissioners and ombudsmen are in Ottawa for their annual meeting, which begins today and continues on Thursday.

'Arar +10' conference

The rare joint statement comes on the same day that a special symposium is set to explore the shifting balance between national security and human rights a decade after the launch of a judicial inquiry into the treatment of Maher Arar.

Dubbed "Arar + 10," the conference is being hosted by the University of Ottawa Centre for International Policy Studies, along with Amnesty International, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group and the Human Rights Research and Education Centre.

Among the events set for today: an "unprecedented keynote lunchtime panel" with the three judges who have presided over judicial inquiries related to national security in the last 10 years:

- Former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci (Internal Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin)

- Former Supreme Court Justice John Major (Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182)

- Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Dennis O’Connor (Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar)

On Monday, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney tabled a bill that would expand the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to monitor and track suspected terrorists and provide increased protection for confidential sources.

It would also give the agency more leeway to operate outside Canada, including sharing intelligence with members of the so-called "Five Eyes" countries: Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

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