Consolidated version of Bill C-22 now available

The consolidated version of the C-22 is now posted.  It now returns to the House on report stage where the plenary Commons will decide whether to accept the standing committee's amendments.

In a prior post, I offered thoughts on the Standing Committee amendments that give the C-22 committee more robust access to information. (Note I have tinkered with these views on review of the full consolidated version, and reversed a view in which I urged that the government could still resort to the Canada Evidence Act). 

At risk of rushing out another blog post during a busy time of term, let me suggest why I think the Standing Committee amendments strike an appropriate balance on granting the C-22 access to classified information.

The bill proposes security-clearing parliamentarians, surrendering their parliamentary privilege and binding them under the Security of Information Act.  These are dramatic safeguards that do not need, in my view, to be supplemented by more limited access to info than is possessed by Canada's existing review bodies, SIRC and OCSEC.  (It is radical from a comparative perspective to security-clear members of the legislative branch, and to subject opposition parliamentarians to intrusive assessments by the executive). Personally, I think these features are a reasonable quid pro quo, if those parliamentarians then have expansive access to info. And I think the SECU surgery accomplishes that. (And the a ministerial veto in 8(b) over some C-22 committee investigations persists -- it is more constrained with the amendments, but still exists.  This is a veto that does not exist for SIRC or OCSEC.)

I strongly suspect that this sort of full C-22 committee information access is not favoured in the security services – but so far, the only justifications that I hear for this view are a visceral “parliamentarians can’t be trusted” and a generally ill-explained “we need to walk before we run”.
I think these views discount the extent to which all the walking done in the UK context created a committee with a very mixed record, and a mixed reputation, especially in the immediate the aftermath of 9/11. That is: there is a consequence to setting up a weak system and expecting it to strengthen with time.

These views also discount the fact that our services (at least CSIS and CSE) are habituated to review in a way that wasn’t true in the UK prior to the ISC; being reviewed won’t be a novel experience, and we should be able to leapfrog the UK growing pains. 

And finally, I am just plain puzzled by the argument that parliamentarians are necessarily less trustworthy than say, the former politicians who have traditionally dominated SIRC appointments.  Everything will depend on the quality of the members, and since the PM still holds the ultimate power of appointment, I think that makes it possible to select as wisely as selections are done for SIRC (and ideally, more wisely, given the unfortunate selection in the last decade of a person who ended up passing away in a Panamanian prison). 

I think the experience elsewhere suggests that partisanship can be set aside, and parliamentary review committees don’t leak. 

Nor do I think that we will be so far out of sync with allies that they will balk. The notion that allies will rap Canadian knuckles is entirely a speculative and doubtful proposition, one that can be used in sort of a circular, lowest-common denominator manner to defeat accountability reform.  Different systems are...different. The US can hardly look at the proposed C-22 committee as more sweeping than its congressional oversight system.

And at any rate, different approaches haven't ruptured relations in the past: SIRC has access to third party foreign intelligence (both in law and, as I have confirmed in my inquiries, in practice), something that is not true in many other jurisdictions.  And yet, our relations with allies continue.  Likewise, our special advocate system (including the scope of information access) is likely more robust than the UK system (and doesn't exist in many other places). And yet the Five Eyes relationship continues.

In other words: I take with a large boulder of salt any view that Canada walks the plank if it creates a strong C-22 committee. On the other hand, I fear a Potemkin village if we create a committee that has the power to investigate, but not the information to do so properly.

I hope Parliament endorses the changes made at the Standing Committee.