CCLA supports the introduction of Bill C-22, which creates a National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians with the capacity to monitor classified security and intelligence activities and report findings to the prime minister.
This new accountability mechanism is crucial because, up to now, there has been no commensurate accountability accompanying the broad state powers introduced by Bill C-51. We note as well that the Committee will have the power to monitor the actions of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Unlike the RCMP, CSIS and CSE, the CBSA has so far not been subject to any oversight despite the fact that 14 individuals have died in its custody (and that of its predecessor agencies).
However, we believe that key parts of Bill C-22 must be considered carefully and possibly amended. First, we are concerned by the government’s power to halt a Committee investigation, or refuse to provide information, when it is deemed “injurious to national security.” While we recognize that the utmost secrecy is sometimes required, this is particularly worrisome because these decisions are final, and are not subject to judicial review or any other dispute resolution process. Also concerning is the prime minister’s power to redact Committee reports (without any evidence that redactions were made), as well as the numerous categories of information the committee cannot access. Furthermore, it should be the Committee members themselves — not the prime minister — that chooses the Committee chair.
Above all, it is important to note that this mechanism alone — along with other promises in the Liberal Party election platform — does not fully undo the damage caused by Bill C-51. Notably, there is still no declared intention to eliminate the government’s new sweeping information sharing powers, or the concerning changes made to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act — both of which we are challenging in court.
Robust and meaningful accountability mechanisms are crucial for security and intelligence agencies. Without such mechanisms, these agencies can run afoul of the rights and freedoms of individuals in Canada, resulting in serious rights abuses and simultaneously threatening Canada’s very democratic foundations. CCLA has fought for national security accountability in written submissions to the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, and in our Charter challenge against Bill C-51. We have also spoken out publicly on several occasions about the need for accountability.
CCLA will closely monitor Bill C-22 as it proceeds through the legislative process this fall and will continue to fight against Bill C-51 in the courts.