Who's watching the CSE? A call for national security accountability

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Imagine your boss putting a hidden camera in your office or a spying device in your telephone recording your conversations. Imagine the reaction when, after rumours spread about his misbehaviour or after some whistleblower leaks documents about his actions, he admits that he "did it" but quickly adds that he did it only "incidentally"! Are you going to believe him and are you going to trust him again? Of course not! Well, this scenario isn't a simple assumption or a fictive statement.

It is our new reality and it is happening even closer to us than we expected. However the culprit isn't your boss (or maybe it is, who knows these days!) and the victim isn't just you. The Canadian Security Establishment (CSE) is the governmental entity conducting this type of spying, not on one Canadian in particular, but on all Canadians. At this stage, I am speculating more than anything else, but I would rather assume the worst since by their own admission, the CSE "did it." On who exactly? When? Where? We still don't know!

Two elements are worth examining here. First, the usual excuse that they "did it" only a few times or rather "incidentally" as they keep saying. In the past, the police when confronted with the misbehaviour of one or some its members, portrayed them as a "few bad apples." That strategy worked fine. It helped the police avoid public scrutiny and kept public trust in the institution. Nevertheless, even after barn-burning scandals in the '70s and a lengthy public inquiry conducted by Justice David McDonald in 1981, very few lessons were retained and business was back to normal. People have the tendency to forget and recommendations barely followed as few journalists and even fewer politicians would follow up.

The second element is that the CSE keep repeating that they "did it" for our own sake. Another patronizing argument that insinuates Government Knows Best and that we should be happy to have such a wonderful institution that protects us from "foreign entities." Mere mention of these terms creates a sense of mystery and urgency to act that can turn every skeptic into a believer. After all, the CSE implicitly rely on the wrong belief that "if it doesn't happen to me, then who cares!"

So far, only a few legal experts in the field have denounced this dangerous intrusion. No public outcry, no loud politicians screaming and yelling in Parliament. Craig Forcese, one of these legal experts, went as far as to call for a public inquiry. I agree.

However, what we should remember is that in Justice O'Connor's list of recommendations after the Arar inquiry in 2006, there was one recommendation that advised the government to create oversight bodies for the RCMP, CSIS and five other agencies involved with national security, including the CSE.

As far as I know, this particular recommendation was never followed. So we end up with no independent monitoring agency for the RCMP or for the CSE. The CIRC, supposedly meant to play such a role for CSIS, is embroiled in one scandal after another -- especially after the corruption and criminal file on its previous president, Arthur Porter, and the latest revelations from the press about Chuck Strahl, the current director, who was found to be lobbying on behalf of Enbridge on the sensitive and environmental file regarding the pipeline in B.C. The irony of this is that Strahl defended himself as being nothing like Arthur Porter!

Last December, Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley found out that he was misled by CSIS and CSE agents to expand their eavesdropping powers unlawfully. In his ruling, he chastised these agencies for their roles in twisting the law in their favour. Unfortunately, no action was taken by the government. Given all this, I have reasons to believe that in the coming months, we will hear more stories about spying on Canadians and more dangerous revelations.

How many of these revelations do we need to get to the bottom of all this? Certainly, keeping silent is not an option.

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Monia Mazigh was born and raised in Tunisia and immigrated to Canada in 1991. Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband, Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year. She campaigned tirelessly for his release. Mazigh holds a PhD in finance from McGill University. In 2008, she published a memoir, Hope and Despair, about her pursuit of justice, and in 2011, a novel in French, Miroirs et mirages.

Photo: Thomas Hawk/flickr

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