March 9th, 2017

Don’t weaken national oversight committee: NDP

OTTAWA – The government is using its majority in the House of Commons to reverse changes made to the planned national security oversight committee by the standing committee on Public Safety. All-party amendments backed by expert testimony strengthened the watchdog committee, giving it full access to classified information and the power to issue subpoenas to support its investigations.

“Craig Forcese and Kent Roach, the Privacy and Information commissioners, members of the Air India inquiry, the first chair of SIRC, the Canadian Bar Association, and others—they all called for the committee to have the tools it needs to do its job,” said NDP House Leader Murray Rankin, “Without full access to information and the ability to summon witnesses and documents, this committee will struggle to earn public trust.”

Matthew Dubé, the NDP Public Safety critic, notes that the government also resisted calls from several high-profile experts to remove a controversial section that gives cabinet ministers the ability to shut down oversight investigations. “The Information Commissioner warned this would turn the committee’s mandate into ‘a mirage’; Craig Forcese warned that it would give the appearance of accountability without the substance: When will the Liberals start listening to nonpartisan experts?”

“The committee listened to the evidence and produced a bill that could earn all-party support,” said Murray Rankin, “The government must explain why it’s rejecting expert advice. The Minister should withdraw these amendments and work with all parties on a proper oversight body that can earn unanimous support.”