December 8th, 2016

NDP secures changes to strengthen spy watchdog bill

OTTAWA — New Democrats’ efforts have made improvements to the government’s security oversight bill at the all-party committee for Public Safety and National Security.

“Bill C-22 needed a real overhaul to bring it into line with the advice of experts,” said NDP House Leader Murray Rankin, “The bill is much stronger now for the changes made at committee: a duty to blow the whistle if security agencies break the law or violate Canadians’ rights, a subpoena power, transparent reports to Canadians and, most importantly, unrestricted access to necessary information. This is now a bill that reflects the evidence we heard from experts and therefore it’s a bill we can support.”

Two key sections of the bill describing what sensitive information the new, Top Secret cleared committee may access were overhauled this week. A seven-part list of off-limits information was reduced to just cabinet confidences, while a controversial clause allowing ministers to withhold information was removed.

“Weeks ago, I shared with all parties our amendment to stop ministers from hiding information from the oversight committee by deleting that provision,” said Rankin, “Witness after witness—from academics like Kent Roach and Craig Forcese, to the former head of SIRC, to the Privacy and Information commissioners of Canada—told us loud and clear that without proper access to information this committee won’t be able to do the job Canadians expect.”

Several changes proposed by the NDP were adopted, including more transparent public reporting, a new power to summon witnesses, and a new whistleblowing duty to report potential violations of Canadians’ rights.

“In the wake of CSIS’ illegal data retention scandal, it’s vital that an oversight committee have a legal duty to blow the whistle on any suspected illegal activity or violations of Canadians’ rights by security agencies,” said NDP Public Safety critic Matthew Dubé.

Bill C-22 is expected to be reported back to the House tomorrow.