Stephen Harper rejects calls for more oversight of new spy powers
Prime Minister Stephen Harper rejected calls for more political oversight of broad new spy and police powers, saying his Conservative government has “strengthened” oversight by turning to Canada’s judges.
Speaking in Surrey, B.C. Harper shrugged off calls by four former prime ministers and a growing chorus of critics who want a more robust role for parliamentarians in guarding against potential future abuses by security agencies.
The NDP and Liberals and now a group of 22 prominent Canadians have called for the establishment of a committee of elected officials that would oversee CSIS’ exercise of its proposed new mandate to disrupt emerging terror threats — as exists in the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.
On Thursday, Harper said the current watchdog agency, SIRC, already provides “independent expert third-party advice” about CSIS’s compliance with the law. He said Bill C-51, a sweeping bill that expands CSIS powers, would require CSIS to get a warrant from a judge on a case-by-case basis if its actions to disrupt threats will violate constitutional rights.
Other senior Conservative ministers echoed the prime minister’s new line of defence, cited the evolving “mutating” threat, and broad public support for the bill reported by pollster Angus Reid.
Canada faces a “high probability” of a jihadist attack from homegrown terrorists, Defence Minister Jason Kenney warned Thursday as he defended the bill and hinted Ottawa will extend the military mission in Iraq.
In his first major address since taking over the national defence portfolio 10 days ago, Kenney said that while risk of conventional war has diminished, “the threat of terrorism has never been greater.”
Harper and Kenney spoke as the government voted to limit the initial debate in the Commons on the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act 2015. Bill C-51 would give CSIS agents broad new powers to actively disrupt suspected threats to Canada’s national security; criminalize the “promotion of terrorism,” ease the government’s ability to ban suspects from airline travel, and provide greater protection to secret witnesses and classified evidence. It would allow more information sharing among 17 federal agencies related to any “activity that undermines the security of Canada” — a definition the NDP says is overly broad and could be used to target First Nations and environmentalists, or the government’s political enemies. (Source: Toronto Star)
Posted at iPolitics.com
— Graeme MacKay (@mackaycartoons) February 20, 2015