Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

There is an interesting piece in the Globe and Mail in which Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says that he is considering a “super SIRC” (Security Intelligence Review Committee) “to solve a problem at the border agency, which has no process in place to deal with complaints about officer conduct.

image (1)The article goes on to explain that “SIRC is the independent, external review body that reports to Parliament on the operations of Canadian Security Intelligence Service, ensuring that the spy agency uses its extraordinary powers to intrude on individuals’ privacy legally and appropriately.

Thankfully, at least according to the article, Minister Goodale did not mention the cseCommunications Security Establishment, our national Signals Intelligence (SigInt) agency, which really does have extraordinary powers and capabilities, as the unfortunate Snowden revelations showed. But my main point is that there is a HUGE gulf between intelligence service oversight and dealing with complaints about rude Canadian Border Service Agency agents. It is a point that Minister Goodale appears to understand when he also suggests that “the RCMP’s Civilian Review and Complaints Commission could be expanded to include oversight of the CBSA.” But even that is the wrong answer to a real problem.

That we are even discussing a “super SIRC” is an indicator that there is an awful lot more that needs fixing in Canadian democracy than how we vote. I focused on equality of representation, but accountability is also on its death bed in Canada … weakened to near non-existence after …

… and a few other “short timers,” all of whom regarded ministerial accountability as a nuisance that got in the way of the public relations machine’s efforts to make them and their governments look good, even when they were breaking the law.

In fact, real accountability for these public servants, in the broadest sense of the word …

… and even these people …


(and that is what many real spies look like int he 21st century) .. .begins here …

… in local constituency offices where MPs meet Canadians, face to face, and hear their problems, including complaints about officialdom; and them moves to here where MPs ask questions, in writing or on the floor of the House of Commons, trying to hold ministers to account for the actions of the people in their departments …

… when (sadly, it’s no longer if) that fails then Canadians may have to face a long slog through the legal system …

… but both those cumbersome systems are, in my opinion, preferable to semi-official, quasi-governmental, arms length agencies and review boards which, let’s face it, are  there, mainly, to deflect problems that might embarrass or discomfort a government.

It is not that there should not be parliamentary review of the intelligence services … there should be, but the review process should be just as SECRET as is the material with which it is dealing. (In other words you and I should know, because the appropriate minister should announce, in the House of Commons, that a parliamentary review panel has not found any 5eyes-01_homepage_blog_horizontalbreaches of law … or, if one is found, that the minister is resigning.) The point of parliamentary reviews is to assure us ~ through parliament and the courts ~ that our agencies are operating within the legal bounds prescribed. This is especially important when an agency has well entrenched (and vital) international connections. But I do argue that “public complaints commissions” are, broadly and generally, weak, matters of political convenience, only quasi-legal (their findings are often overturned in real courts) and, like “human rights” commissions, should be disbanded and replaced by a (restored) system of ministerial accountability.

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