01/30/2015 12:02 EST | Updated 04/01/2015 05:59 EDT

Ian Holloway appointed to Security Intelligence Review Committee

On the day his government is proposing new powers for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Stephen Harper has also moved to fill one of two vacancies on the spy service's oversight body.

The appointed of Ian Holloway, the current dean of the law school at the University of Calgary, to the Security Intelligence Review Committee was announced Friday.

His appointment still leaves one vacancy on the five-member board.

Holloway has a long background in academia and private practice, as well as a 26-year career in the Canadian and Australian Navy. A news release from the prime minister's office touts his "deep knowledge of security issues" as a result of his military service here and abroad.

Established in 1984 to serve as a watchdog for the Canadian spy service, SIRC is intended to provide an independent external review of CSIS's activities. It examines complaints by individuals and reports by ministers relating to national security.

Critics have accused the Harper government of not making CSIS oversight a priority, as vacancies were left unfilled for long periods.

But past appointment decisions have proven controversial for the Harper government.

A previous SIRC chair, Arthur Porter, resigned in 2011 after being accused of fraud in his past business dealings and is still in a Panamanian jail on fraud charges.

Conflict of interest concerns

Former Reform and Conservative MP Deborah Grey continues to serve as the body's interim chair, following the resignation of the previous chair, Chuck Strahl, over conflict of interest allegations.

The other two current members are former RCMP officer and corporate security specialist Gene McLean and legal expert Yves Fortier. The recent end of Frances Lankin's five-year term leaves one outstanding vacancy.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association wrote to SIRC last fall demanding Fortier recuse himself from the oversight body's investigation into the surveillance of environmental activists, following complaints that CSIS gathered and shared information about campaigners opposed to Canada's energy policies. Fortier once sat on the board of TransCanada Pipelines — the company behind the Keystone XL project.

The opposition is consulted before appointments to SIRC are announced but they cannot block the appointments when they do not approve. In November, the NDP released letters it wrote to Harper opposing his previous three appointments over concerns about potential conflicts of interest and appropriate qualifications.