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At least 3 public servants accused of spying have had security clearances revoked since 2016

The federal government has stripped the security clearance of at least three public servants since 2016, over concerns they were working on behalf of a foreign government.

Documents tabled in Parliament show that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), including the Canadian Coast Guard, in 2017 revoked the security clearance of one staff member due to "the individual spying or otherwise acting on behalf of a foreign government."

Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) withdrew the security clearance of one public servant in 2019 for the same reason. In both cases the government has so far provided no explanation or elaboration behind the decision or the allegations of spying.

The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) has also revoked an employee’s security clearance, saying in the documents that security clearance was revoked in 2019 due to an individual acting on behalf of a foreign government by disclosing information to them.

In emailed statements to CTV News on Wednesday, spokespersons for the DFO, ESDC and CBSA confirmed the details regarding security status being revoked for individuals within their departments, and said they take the protection of Canada’s information extremely seriously. However, due to security reasons, the departments said they could not provide further details.

What information was disclosed and whether it was of a sensitive nature is unclear. However, the department explains, in the context of security clearances at the Top Secret and Secret levels, a review for cause is typically initiated following information from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS).

"If the risk is assessed as being unacceptable, the deputy head, as the sole authority over the decision, may revoke the Secret or Top Secret clearance previously granted," the department wrote.

Christian Leuprecht, a national security expert and a professor at both the Royal Military College and Queen’s University, says this is a case where more information would be useful. He says federal government departments should be more transparent about how many people have had their security clearances revoked and for what reasons.

“As a government, we have an interest in making these numbers public,” he told CTV News. “It serves as a deterrent. We want to send a signal that when you work here, you can actually lose your security clearance … and that's probably it for your job.”

Leuprecht says governments inherently "over-classify everything" and, in this case, these numbers show the system is working.

“They're probably afraid that this is going to have repercussions,” he said. “It actually shows that our system works. And in the end, we can find people who are unreliable. Our account intelligence measures work.”

The responses from the various government departments were revealed in an order paper question by Conservative MP John Barlow. The responses were tabled in the House of Commons on March 29.

The number of public servants who have had their clearance pulled over allegations of spying may extend to other departments as well.

Global Affairs Canada says, since 2016, 11 employees have had their security clearances revoked for cause – meaning not as a result of retirement or resignation. The department, however, is refusing to say whether any of those individuals were accused of spying.

"Information has been withheld on the grounds that its disclosure could reasonably be expected to be injurious to the conduct of international affairs, the defence of Canada or any state allied or associated with Canada, or the detection, prevention or suppression of subversive or hostile activities," GAC's response reads.

CSIS, meanwhile, refused to disclose whether any of its employees have had their security clearances pulled. However, CSIS did say that it conducts investigations and provides security assessments and advice to government departments and agencies when deciding to grant, deny or revoke clearances. The individual decisions, CSIS, says are up to the individual departments.

"CSIS does not disclose details related to its personnel,” the agency wrote.

Overall, at least 308 public servants have had their clearances revoked for cause since 2016. Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), ESDC, and the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) have pulled the highest number of clearances, according to the documents tabled in Parliament.

Former director of CSIS Ward Elcock is not surprised by the findings and says were the number of revoked security clearances substantially larger only then would he be concerned.

“That’s not a very large number when you consider how many people work for the federal government,” he said. “There are always going to be cases where people lose their security clearances for a variety of reasons. I have pulled security clearances because people lied.”

Only ESDC, however, had a clearance revoked for what the department classified as being "due to the individual spying or otherwise acting on behalf of a foreign government."

In an emailed statement to CTV News on Wednesday, a CRA spokesperson said it has revoked zero security clearances due to spying or otherwise acting on behalf of a foreign government. 

"Any allegations or suspicions of employee misconduct are taken seriously, are thoroughly investigated, and when misconduct is founded, appropriate measures are taken. They could also be subject to a review of their reliability status and appropriate disciplinary measures, which could include termination of employment. In addition, serious misconduct could lead to a revocation of previously granted security status," the spokesperson added.



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