Spy complaint hearings begin, civil liberties group presses for more info
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, August 12, 2015 6:53AM EDT
OTTAWA -- A civil liberties group says it's being kept in the dark as a federal watchdog begins looking at whether the Canadian Security Intelligence Service went too far in eyeing environmental activists.
CSIS has disclosed very little information heading into three days of Security Intelligence Review Committee hearings about the complaint from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said Paul Champ, lawyer for the association.
"It's going to make it very difficult," Champ said in an interview. "This kind of process is always shadow-boxing for a complainant. But here you're shadow-boxing with the lights turned out. There's not even shadows there, because we don't know what CSIS's case is."
The association filed a complaint with the review committee in February 2014 after media reports suggested that CSIS and other government agencies considered opposition to the petroleum industry a threat to national security.
The complaint cited reports the spy service had shared information with the National Energy Board about "radicalized environmentalist" groups seeking to participate in the board's hearings on Enbridge's Northern Gateway project, which would see Alberta crude flow to westward to the B.C. coast.
The passage of government security legislation that gives CSIS new powers to disrupt extremist activity has only heightened concerns about monitoring of environmental and aboriginal protesters who oppose oil pipelines.
The initial review committee hearings begin today in Vancouver behind closed doors and there likely will be additional sessions that exclude the association and its counsel for national-security reasons. It could take months or well over a year for the committee to conclude its probe.
The parties were given deadlines to produce bound books of evidence they will rely on as well as detailed summaries of what witnesses will say, Champ said.
The civil liberties association intends to present activists' witness statements and information about CSIS gleaned from Access to Information documents.
CSIS has provided "just a bunch of printouts from their website," Champ said. In addition, a senior spy service manager from B.C., known only as Robert, will testify.
"They haven't given us any indication of how they respond to our specific allegations whatsoever," Champ said. "They haven't given us any indication even confirming that they were monitoring some of these groups."
Champ raised the concerns during a July 24 teleconference with review committee member Yves Fortier, who is hearing the complaint, and counsel for CSIS.
During the call, the CSIS lawyer said the spy service would provide the committee "with all of the necessary information" to investigate the complaint. But she added CSIS would not confirm in the presence of association counsel whether it investigated a particular group or subject.
The civil liberties association says it might press harder by asking the review committee to issue summonses for CSIS employees whose names appear in Access to Information documents.
Fortier urged Champ to wait until the first phase of the hearings have wrapped up.
CSIS did not immediately respond to questions from The Canadian Press about the process.
The association will continue to pursue the complaint despite its concerns, Champ said in the interview.
"Some process is better than no process," he said. "We do think this is an important issue. We're hopeful that some light will be shed on what CSIS was doing in following or monitoring environmentalists."