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Additional oversight for security agencies just 'needless red tape': government
Published Sunday, February 1, 2015 10:30AM EST Last Updated Tuesday, February 3, 2015 9:42PM EST
Shortly after tabling its controversial new anti-terror legislation, the government says the creation of any additional oversight body for Canada’s security agencies is just “duplication” and “needless red tape.”
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney told CTV’s Question Period that any oversight efforts beyond the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which reports to Parliament on the operations of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), would be redundant.
“They (SIRC) have been reporting to Parliament,” said Blaney. “Any additional (reporting) would be just duplication because they are already acting on behalf of parliamentarians.”
The Conservative government tabled its second piece of anti-terror legislation -- titled C-51 or the Anti-Terrorism Act -- on Friday. The bill, which aims to strengthen laws to fight the threat of terrorism, was met with opposition for its failure to include any new parliamentary oversight measures for Canada’s security agencies.
When asked why the government would not consider granting MPs more power to oversee security agencies, like the U.S. and U.K. have done, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety Roxanne James shut down the idea.
“We are not interested in creating needless red tape,” said James during a panel discussion with opposition MPs on Question Period.
James said Canada is its “own entity,” and that the government makes decisions that best reflect the interests of its citizens.
Both the Liberals and the NDP have expressed concern about the balance of the security of Canadians and civil liberties. They are calling for additional oversight of Canada’s security agencies, including CSIS, to ensure that they are abiding by the law and respecting the rights of Canadians.
“When it comes to terrorism, we think Canada’s a safe country. But we want to ensure that these two principles of liberties and freedoms, and safety, are actually things that go together,” said NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar.
Liberal Public Safety critic and former solicitor general Wayne Easter said more oversight is needed, especially given the proposed changes in Bill C-51.
“What is absolutely missing in this legislation is oversight, oversight, oversight. There is not proper oversight of this agency and we’re the only one of the Five Eyes countries that does not have parliamentary oversight of our national security agencies,” said Easter.
The bill proposes a number of new measures, including:
- New powers for CSIS to cancel a suspect’s travel reservations or block electronic communication.
- Allows police to detain a suspected terrorist for seven days (up from the current three days) without charges if a judge agrees. Otherwise, only one day of detention is permitted.
- Criminalizes the promotion of terrorism.
- Makes it easier to stop alleged jihadists from boarding planes.
- Permits the sharing of private or commercial information among federal departments.
Despite concerns about security agencies monitoring domestic activists, such as environmentalists or First Nations advocates, Blaney assured Canadians that the bill would not target those who have not broken the law.
“The aim of that bill is to track terrorists, to track those who are willing to commit violence in any form of terrorism,” he said. “We want to protect the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression. We want to protect our values.”