POLITICS

CSIS needs more oversight, NDP says as terrorism bill returns to House

12/01/2014 04:08 EST | Updated 01/31/2015 05:59 EST
Opposition MPs will make one last attempt this afternoon to tighten the rules on when and how the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) can use the new powers it would get under the government's bid to boost strengthen it. 

Bill C-44, the so-called protection of Canada from terrorists act, is poised to undergo a final review at the House public safety committee this afternoon.

New Democrat public safety critic Randall Garrison wants CSIS to be required to seek warrants for any extraterritorial investigation that would require such authorization if conducted in Canada, or that could be inconsistent with international laws — including those of foreign states where such operations could take place.

He will also propose the bill be changed to allow the identity of a protected source to be disclosed in cases where "the life, liberty and security" of the accused is likely to be endangered, and to specifically allow defendants to have counsel present at court proceedings.

Mandatory review, more SIRC disclosure: NDP

The New Democrats also want the new rules to undergo a mandatory review in two years, and would also require CSIS to file annual reports with the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) on the use of the new warrant provisions, including the number of applications filed and granted, as well as an overview on the activities conducted and results achieved.

He would also tweak the criteria for SIRC membership to explicitly require that members of the independent oversight panel have "significant experience" in the administration of justice, national security and other relevant areas.

New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair has raised concerns over several recent SIRC appointments, including former Reform MP Deborah Grey, over what he feared was a lack of experience in the area.

He has also lodged objections over potential conflicts on the part of other nominees. 

Other amendments expected to be considered today include a proposal from Liberal MP Wayne Easter to restrict source protection to individuals who are residents of, or present in Canada.

Easter also wants the public safety minister to be required to consult with his or her counterpart at foreign affairs before signing off on an application for a warrant to investigate potential national security threats outside Canada.

The committee will also deal with amendments submitted by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

Among her suggestions: new wording to specify that any promise of source confidentiality would have to be both explicit and written, and would include a provision to make sure the preliminary security assessments that trigger such investigations "are obtained in accordance with international law," including the 1984 Convention Against Torture.

Just two days for committee review

Although May is not a member of the committee, she is nevertheless allowed to propose amendments through the chair, although she is not permitted to take part in the ensuing debate or vote.  

The government did not respond to a query from CBC News on what, if any, amendments its members will put forward for the committee to consider. 

The amendments will be debated this afternoon and need the support of at least one Conservative MP to be adopted. 

The anti-terrorism bill was introduced last month just days after the Oct. 22 attack on Parliament Hill. but was not a direct response to that incident, as it had been in the legislative queue for months.

Both the New Democrats and the Liberals balked at the deadline imposed by the government at committee. 

MPs spent just two meetings — or four hours — hearing from witnesses, including an hour each with Public Safety Minister Steve Blaney and CSIS Director Michel Coulombe.

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien had asked to appear, but was not invited to testify. Instead, he filed a written submission outlining his concerns, which he also discussed at the House privacy committee.

If the committee wraps up clause-by-clause this afternoon, the bill could be back in the House by Wednesday, and go to a final vote by early next week.