Kinsman: Are the Liberal party’s calls for parliamentary oversight of Canada’s intelligence services warranted?

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February 6, 2014
Jeremy Kinsman
Former ambassador to the European Union and high commissioner to Britain

Parliamentary oversight of these controversial powers is essential but the prognosis is discouraging. The public interest depends on a) political acceptance of a meaningful parliamentary role sadly absent from this Government’s culture; b) a serious professional committee of Parliament, sworn to the official secrets act, acting in non-partisan interests; and c) deference from the swaggering security agencies used to co-opting officials and public opinion.

Existing oversight provisions are not adequate to public concern that privacy and civil liberties are in peril. Administratively, the dismal status of current agency oversight as a repository for political patronage and misplaced confidence is exemplified by the grotesque appointment as Chair of the Security Intelligence Review Commission of Dr. Arthur Porter in 2010. Dr. Porter currently faces charges of fraud and breach of trust. Judicially, the special courts and judges that consider breaches of privacy on ostensible grounds of national security provide warrants on demand, without rigorous examination of the merits, and rarely refuse.

The public deserves agency – the capacity to affect decisions about our lives.

For such a task, the default responsibility centre has to be Parliament, the locale for such oversight in most democratic countries. But Canadians are short-changed by a Government that distrusts Parliament, as well as oversight, accountability, and transparency.

Let’s hope for enlightenment or swift change.

We have to do better.