October 29th, 2013

NDP wants parliamentary oversight of government’s intelligence and security activities

In the wake of disturbing revelations about the activities of the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) – Canada’s equivalent to the United States’ NSA – NDP Defence critic Jack Harris (St. John’s-East) wants greater Parliamentary oversight of the agency.

“Recent events have raised concern about CSEC’s activities,” said Harris. “As the former head of CSEC has said, there must be more parliamentary oversight for this agency and clear answers for Canadians about its activities.”

Harris sought unanimous consent for a motion to create a parliamentary committee to determine the appropriate method of oversight for Canada’s security and intelligence community. His motion was ultimately defeated.

“It’s not just CSEC that’s at issue,” Harris noted. “New Democrats are proposing to improve transparency and strengthen parliamentary oversight of all the security and intelligence activities of government.”

After allegations of spying on Brazil came to light, Harris wrote to the Minister of National Defence to get clear answers on CSEC’s practices. These concerns have also been echoed by CSEC watchdog Robert Décary and Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.

The NDP has long called for greater oversight of Canada’s intelligence community, as is in place for other countries.

“Motion M-461 seeks to develop the appropriate mechanism to ensure effective parliamentary oversight for Canada,” said Harris.

Harris sought unanimous consent for the following, Motion M-461:

  • That (a) a special committee on security and intelligence oversight be appointed to study and make recommendations with respect to the appropriate method of parliamentary oversight of Canadian government policies, regulations, and activities in the area of intelligence, including those of all departments, agencies, and review bodies, civilian and military, involved in the collection, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence for the purpose of Canada’s national security; (b) in the course of its work the committee should consider the methods of oversight adopted by other countries and their experiences and make recommendations appropriate to Canada's unique circumstances; (c) the Committee be composed of 12 members, 7 from the Conservative Party, 4 from the New Democratic Party, and 1 from the Liberal Party, to be named following the usual consultations with the Whips and filed with the Clerk of the House no later than November 8, 2013; (d) the Chair be a member of the Conservative Party and that there be one Vice-Chair from each of the opposition parties; (e) the first meeting be held before November 22, 2013; (f) membership substitutions be permitted to be made from time to time, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2); (g) changes in the membership of the special committee be effective immediately after notification by the Whip has been filed with the Clerk of the Committee; (h)the special committee be granted all of the powers of a standing committee, as provided in the Standing Orders; and (i) the special committee report its findings and recommendations to the House no later than May 30, 2014.