10/24/2014 03:07 EDT | Updated 12/24/2014 05:59 EST

CSIS Policies Leave Gun-Toting Spies Without Proper Cover: Watchdog

OTTAWA - The national intelligence watchdog has found "serious issues" with the policy that allows Canadian spies to carry guns in overseas hotspots.

In its annual report tabled Friday, the watchdog said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had not properly addressed questions of liability should a CSIS officer shoot someone abroad.

CSIS officers began using guns in Afghanistan in 2002, and the spy service has since launched its own firearms program as it expands foreign operations in the fight against terrorism.

The Security Intelligence Review Committee wants Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney to provide a written explanation of the legal authority permitting CSIS officers to use firearms in other conflict zones.

It says there is no CSIS policy on extracting an armed spy from a trouble spot, nor on whether the officer would be immune from prosecution. There was also a lack of advice on what course of legal action might be taken in Canada if a CSIS employee "was believed to have acted negligently" abroad, the report says.

The review committee also recommended CSIS develop better guidelines on the purchase of weapons in dangerous foreign environments.

It's important for Blaney to be kept in the loop in the event something were to go "tragically wrong," said Deborah Grey, interim chairwoman of the review committee.

"We could just guess that it would be very difficult for the Canadian public as well as the minister, so that's why we wanted to bring it to his attention," she said Friday in an interview.

The Conservative government is planning to give the spy agency increased powers in coming legislation that would make it easier to track terror suspects overseas.

The review committee says it had trouble completing the study on firearms because CSIS provided "incomplete and inconsistent" answers to questions about the program.

The committee experienced similar disclosure difficulties on the part of the spy service in another study and in dealing with two public complaints.

On one complaint file, the committee was "seriously misled by CSIS," which "violated its duty of candour" by not disclosing key information, the report says.

In another study outlined in the annual report, the watchdog found changes CSIS had undertaken regarding use of information collected for security screening could be used for entirely other investigative purposes.

It says that would amount to a violation of privacy law — or at least leave room for abuse of the personal details.

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