I see something in an article on the CBC News site that could be a major step in the right direction for Canada’s governance.
Over the decades we have seen a proliferation of ombudsmen and independent commissioners and various and sundry review boards, all of which aim to reassure Canadians that agencies ~ the ultra secret security services and our local police forces and hospitals and, and, and … ~ are all operating within the laws and in the public interest. All these efforts miss the mark because the proper responsibility for overseeing ALL aspects of our public institutions, including e.g. the Communications Security Establishment, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and, indeed local police forces and even the municipal bylaw enforcement people are our elected representatives.
Prime Minister Trudeau has appointed a multi-party, joint (House and Senate) committee “to oversee the secretive activities of Canada’s national security and intelligence agencies … [and] … Ontario Liberal MP David McGuinty will chair the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, which includes senators and Liberal, Conservative and NDP MPs.” It’s a good first step and the prime minister is to be commended but I am about 99.% certain that he has not gone far enough.
In my opinion this committee should replace the commissioners who currently have oversight of e.g. CSE and CSIS. The committee members should be nominated very, very early in the life of each parliament and, after a highest priority security check by CSIS and the RCMP those who are appointed should be sworn into the Privy Council and thereby be given access to pretty much all of the state’s deepest, darkest secrets. I think the committee should report to both the House and the Senate and the public at least once a year telling us (we hope) that our security services are operating within Canadian law (or promising to report breaches to the prime minister) and (we hope, again) in an efficient and effective manner. Much, perhaps most of the committee’s work should be SECRET or (very often) even more highly classified and only a handful of people ~ probably all in the privy Council Office ~ should have access to the committee’s complete reports. The committee should be able to meet in secret and should be able to compel testimony from ANY Canadian on ANY subject within their mandate. The committee should be able to compel the prime minister to answer its reports within a specified time.
Provincial legislatures and city councils should set up similar committees and get rid of all the so called “arms length” oversight and review boards.
Of course we, citizens, want oversight of our security, police and other similar agencies, but we should want it done by the people we elect to represent us … by the “official” people closest to us, not by some remote, “arms length” and faceless retired judge.
Having effective parliamentary oversight of our national intelligence, police and security services is something we, Canadians, should want. It will require dedication by our elected officials (but that’s not too much to ask, is it?) and some measure of cooperation, in the national interest by partisan, political leaders (but that, too, is not much to ask, I hope). Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made a good first step … but there are many more that are needed.