POLITICS

Retired judge and former national security adviser named to spy watchdog

05/01/2015 05:01 EDT | Updated 05/01/2016 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - The Security Intelligence Review Committee, the watchdog that keeps an eye on Canada's spy agency, will be led by Pierre Blais, a former solicitor general and recently retired chief justice of the Federal Court of Appeal.

The Prime Minister's Office also announced the appointment of former national security adviser Marie-Lucie Morin as a member of the review committee, which scrutinizes the activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Former MP Deborah Grey, who was interim chair of the review committee, is stepping down.

The appointment of two new members with experience in security intelligence matters follows a recent federal move to almost double the review body's annual budget.

The review committee has been beset by the sudden resignations of two chairmen in recent years as well as criticism over lingering vacancies and what many critics called insufficient resources to do the job.

The concerns only intensified following introduction of anti-terrorism legislation that would give CSIS new powers to actively disrupt plots, not just gather information about them.

The review committee, which has access to all CSIS records, studies the spy service's operations to ensure compliance with the law and also examines complaints from the public. It has absorbed some functions of the former inspector general's office, a watchdog the Conservatives abolished to save money.

Two successive review committee chairmen — Dr. Arthur Porter and Chuck Strahl — quit amid questions about their private business dealings.

Porter, jailed in Panama, is fighting extradition to Canada, where he is wanted for his alleged role in a multimillion-dollar contracting conspiracy.

Appointments to the review committee are made after consultation by the prime minister with leaders of the official Opposition and any party with at least twelve seats. However, their approval is not required for an appointment to go ahead.

Blais held a number of cabinet positions in the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney before becoming a Federal Court judge in 1998. He was appointed to the Federal Court of Appeal in 2008, serving as chief justice from 2009 to 2014.

In addition to advising the prime minister on security matters, Morin served as a diplomat, associate secretary to the cabinet and, after retiring from the public service, in various positions with the World Bank.

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