University Faculty Worried Over CSIS Activity

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CANADIAN UNIVERSITY PRESS - Toronto: A University of Toronto professor who was spied on by the secret service, fears a renewed crackdown on dissenting views, echoing concerns of professors across Canada who say university administrators are doing nothing to protect faculty from government snooping.

John Gittins was one of two U of T geology professors spied on by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) between 1986 and 1990.

He says current policy with regard to government spying is toothless and desperately needs to be revised in wake of the new anti-terrorism legislation the federal government is poised to enact.

“My colleagues who are still currently employed in the university might be advised to look at this policy and say do I really believe that assurance?” Gittins said.

The topic has become a top priority in discussions among faculty across the country, according to the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the organization that represents Canada’s professors.

“There’s a generalized discussion at universities all over about whether there’s going to be a return to some of the less tolerant periods in the past like the cold war years and like the McCarthy period,” said James Turk, executive director of the CAUT.

“If faculty members or students are having to look over their shoulders wondering if there’s a CSIS informant in their midst, it can make people reluctant to speak freely, and the essence of a university is a place where people can speak freely and argue different views.”

An agreement signed with the CAUT in the 1960s says CSIS cannot spy on university campuses without the consent of the Solicitor General, the federal minister in charge of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and CSIS.

This agreement was revised by a 1995 U of T policy that, when announced, was supposed to protect professors, stating “disclosure of personal information contained in university records should be regulated in a manner that will protect the privacy of individuals who are the subject of such information.”

But Gittins does not feel comforted.

“It rather smacks of empty words,” he said. “Where are the teeth in it? It doesn’t say anything at all about disciplinary action.”

Gittins says that contrary to a U of T public affairs report denying that the university fired the CSIS spy for fear of a media scandal, he was positive that was exactly the case.

“There’s no doubt about it,” he said.

CSIS spokesperson Chantal Lapalme says investigations at universities require senior level approval, “and in some situations when it involves direction of human sources and the use of intrusive devices, then ministerial approval is also required,” she said.

“We don’t report to the public, so we wouldn’t report to campuses.” Angela Hildyard, U of T’s vice-president of human resources, commented on the university’s role in dealing with requests for information.

“If it’s a matter where they come to the university and say ‘We want to observe and follow somebody and check what their doing,’ we would have to have a subpoena or something that would obligate us under law to allow that to happen.”

Lapalme assured that CSIS activity is sensitive to the special considerations of academic and personal freedom in a university setting.

“We don’t investigate activities that constitute lawful advocacy, protest and dissent, unless carried out in conjunction with threats to the security of Canada,” said Lapalme.

Turk raised concerns over current erosions of the Canadian Privacy Act, and Bill C-36, in light of what happened with Gittins and his colleague.

“All of those things are being justified in the name of September 11, but to what extent do we sacrifice the things that we allegedly value in order to defend the things that we allegedly value?”

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