PROFESSOR OF LAW AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA, PRESIDENT OF CANADIAN ASSOCIATION OF LAW TEACHERS
PROFESSOR OF LAW AND PRICHARD-WILSON CHAIR OF LAW AND PUBLIC POLICY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO FACULTY OF LAW
WHAT DOES ACCOUNTABILITY MEAN TO YOU?
Accountability means willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions. It depends on transparency, ensuring that those actions are known by those able to compel a response. In the national security area, however, accountability is muted by the necessary (and sometimes unnecessary) secrecy that obscures government conduct. If there is one single animating feature of our work it is this: an effort to make the state’s national security work more transparent and to bolster the tools of accountability. We attempt to scrutinize closely the prognostications of insiders who ask us to trust their judgment but rarely give us the means to verify the basis for their views.
In a country facing real (although far from existential) threats, security agencies are often asked to take responsibility both for what they do and what they fail to do: they are expected to meet civil liberties standards and they are expected to protect us. Inevitably, that raises questions of balance.
Only by building these accountability tools and playing this challenge function can we hope for a democratic citizenry able to evaluate where the always dynamic balance between liberty and security should lie, and to make informed demands on state security agencies.