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CSIS's reach, source protection to be examined by Senate today

03/09/2015 11:40 EDT | Updated 05/09/2015 05:59 EDT
Canada's top security officials will face questions from the Senate defence committee today over the government's plans to extend the reach of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, CSIS director Michel Coulombe and other top security officials are appearing before the committee this afternoon. Privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien and former CSIS assistant director of intelligence Ray Boisvert will also be there.

CBCNews.ca will carry the committee meeting live starting at 1 p.m. ET.

The officials are to discuss Bill C-44, proposed legislation that would let CSIS work outside of Canada and better protect the confidentiality of its sources.

Right now, CSIS is barred from working outside Canada.

The bill was tabled in the House five days after Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot and killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial in Ottawa and stormed Parliament Hill last fall.

2 bills to boost CSIS powers

Another bill, C-51, is a much longer piece of proposed legislation that also aims to increase CSIS's powers, including giving the spy agency the ability to ask a judge for permission to contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

C-44 aims to protect confidential sources used in national security cases, even keeping the identities from a judge, and give CSIS explicit authority to operate both inside and outside of Canada, even if that breaks the law in other countries.

The Conservatives last fall shot down requests for additional CSIS oversight to go along with the increased powers. Government officials have argued against increased oversight in the debate over Bill C-51 too.

Bill C-44 would also allow Canadian intelligence operatives to ignore the laws of the countries in which they operate as long as they obey Canadian law.

Officials appearing at a House of Commons committee last November weren't able to name any other country among the so-called Five Eyes partners that has the same provision. The Five Eyes partnership is an intelligence agreement between Australia, Canada, the U.S., the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

The proposed bill would also:

- Allow for some exceptions, including disclosure of informants' identities "if the human source and the [CSIS] director consent to the disclosure of that information."

- Lay out the process by which a judge could order that an exception be made.

- Make it an offence to divulge any information that would lead to the disclosure of the identity of a CSIS employee "who was, is or is likely to become engaged in covert operational activities."

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