Top-secret committee to study foreign meddling, military use of Canadians' info
Published Wednesday, February 6, 2019 12:58PM EST
OTTAWA -- Over the next year, the top-secret National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians plans to probe the threat foreign interference poses to Canada, and examine how the military collects and uses information about Canadians.
The committee gave notice this week of its planned studies for the year, all of which will happen behind closed doors.
The high-level oversight body was created in 2017, and mirrors similar committees set up in the other "Five Eyes" alliance countries. Members include MPs and Senators, who must have the highest level, or “top secret” security clearance.
The committee garnered a higher profile in Canada and abroad after then-member Tony Clement stepped down from all parliamentary roles after revealing he sent sexually explicit images and a video of himself to someone he thought was a consenting female, but who was actually a "foreign actor" seeking to financially extort the long-time MP. Months later, two men in West Africa were arrested and accused of being behind the blackmail attempt.
This situation prompted questions over potential security ramifications and the vetting of members of the committee.
As the committee looks to the year ahead the first study on its agenda will be a look at the threat of foreign interference to Canada's national security and the measures currently in place to counter it.
Then the plan is to move on to a probe of the Canada Border Services Agency's national security and intelligence activities related to enforcing immigration and customs laws.
Next up will be a review of "issues of diversity and inclusion in Canada's security and intelligence community." Specifically the committee will look at federal security agencies' progress and consult leaders in these offices to recommend ways to improve the culture and representation within the highest levels of the intelligence community.
Lastly, the committee is looking to examine the way the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces collect, use, and disseminate information about Canadian citizens as it conducts defence intelligence activities.
The committee's findings and recommendations on the military's treatment of citizens' data will be submitted to the prime minister and the minister of national defence before the end of 2019.
Of course, all this work could be usurped by other issues that may arise. The committee can undertake special studies at any time, as it did with the prime minister's troubled India trip in 2018.
"Our planned reviews for 2019 will continue to build a picture of the various parts of the security and intelligence community and how it works together to protect our security, our freedoms and our institutions," said chair of the committee Liberal MP David McGuinty in a statement.
The 11-member committee has continued to meet despite being having vacancies in both of the spots reserved for Conservative MPs. In addition to Clement's vacancy, the spot held by late-Conservative MP Gord Brown has been vacant since May 2018. There has already been a byelection in the riding he held, where a new Conservative MP has been named.
The appointments and necessary clearances rest with the Privy Council Office and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"The Committee is continuing to meet, but is looking forward to welcoming two new members from the Official Opposition as soon as possible," executive director of the committee told CTVNews.ca in a statement.
Asked about when the new Conservative members will be named, PMO spokesperson Eleanore Catenaro told CTV News.ca that the processing is "almost complete" and they expect the new additions will be named "in short order."
Just before Christmas, the committee issued its first annual report to the prime minister, and a declassified version will be tabled in Parliament within 30 sitting days, meaning it could be April before that happens.