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Group Calls for Formal Ethics Inquiry into Spy Watchdog Turned Enbridge Lobbyist Chuck Strahl | DeSmog Canada

Group Calls for Formal Ethics Inquiry into Spy Watchdog Turned Enbridge Lobbyist Chuck Strahl | DeSmog Canada.

Public interest group Democracy Watch released a letter (link to pdf) to ethics commissioner Mary Dawson Friday, requesting she launch an inquiry into former Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl in the wake of revelations that he’s working as an Enbridge lobbyist while also serving as Canada’s top spy watchdog.

The letter points to rules in the Conflict of Interest Act that require public office holders to manage their private life to avoid conflicts of interest. Strahl’s work as a lobbyist, Democracy Watch suggests, invites conflicts of interest, rather than prevents them.

Recently the Vancouver Observer revealed Strahl had registered in B.C. as an Enbridge lobbyist. As the chair of theSecurity Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), some questioned Strahl’s suitability to judiciously oversee the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the spy agency involved in the monitoring of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline hearings.

Democracy Watch also notes that Strahl violated the waiting period meant to prevent former public office holders from using their government contacts to advance private corporate interests.

Enbridge met with Strahl in his role as a cabinet minister on April 29, 2010. Strahl left his position on May 17, 2011. Five months later, in October 2011, Strahl signed an open letter in support of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline. In December of 2013, Strahl registered as a B.C. lobbyist listing Northern Gateway Pipelines L.P. as his client.

According to Duff Conacher, board member of Democracy Watch and adjunct professor with the University of Toronto faculty of law, Strahl is allowing his work with government departments and Enbridge to overlap in illegal ways.

“There’s a rule that you cannot work for any entity, or any organization, or anyone, that you had significant dealings with during your last year in office… And therefore Strahl should not have been dealing with Enbridge until May 18, 2013, which would have been two years after he left office,” he told DeSmog Canada.

“The open letter Strahl signed on to was illegal,” Conacher said. “You’re not allowed to make representations to anyone for any entity that you had significant official dealings with during your last year in office.”

Yet signing an open letter in favour of Enbridge projects is just the beginning of Strahl’s misdeeds, according to Conacher. Far more serious is Strahl’s position with the oversight committee tasked with protecting citizen rights from CSIS.

“Beyond that though there is a general rule about preventing conflicts of interest…so I don’t think he can work for Enbridge as chair of SIRC because that causes conflicts; it does not prevent them.”

In addition, Conacher worries Strahl’s cabinet position may have exposed him to government information that could be used to benefit Enbridge’s push for the Northern Gateway pipeline.

“There is another rule, that never ever in your entire life after you leave cabinet can you give advice using secret information that you’ve learned on the job,” he said.

“It’s not only that your not allowed to share the secret information; you’re not allowed to do that. But you’re not allowed to even give advice using the secret information. He can’t un-know what he knows and so his advice is based on what he knows. What he knows is secret information, therefore he’s prohibited from giving that advice.”

Canada’s ethics commissioner Mary Dawson has been politely side-stepping the issue, Conacher says. Her track record shows she tends to avoid controversy as well, with over 80 former ethics rulings made in secret. Conacher’s concern is that Dawson, a Conservative-appointed commissioner, is avoiding the hard questions — questions Democracy Watch details in its eight-page letter to her.

“It’s beyond conflict of interest. It’s also these other rules that apply and it’s not resolved by Strahl just recusing himself if a complaint comes forward about CSIS and Enbridge,” he said. “And that’s what Mary Dawson has been dodging.”

Dawson is not required to investigate ethics complaints filed by members of the public. She would be required to investigate, however, if a member of parliament made the same complaint.

Strahl’s behaviour, Conacher says, is “very dangerously undemocratic” and “unethical” because it places “the interests of a few private companies way above the public interest.”

“That’s why it’s illegal,” he says. “Thankfully, it’s illegal.”

The Conflict of Interests Act has been reviewed over the past year by the House of Commons ethics committee. A full report outlining the position of each federal party on ethics issues is due out this week or when parliament resumes.

“You don’t have democracy if these rules are not strict, strong and enforced. As everyone knows: if you allow private interests to trump public interests then you don’t have democracy,” Conacher said.

SIRC chair’s pipeline lobbying seen as symptom of larger problem – Politics – CBC News

SIRC chair’s pipeline lobbying seen as symptom of larger problem – Politics – CBC News.

Former cabinet minister Chuck Strahl was appointed last year to chair the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which oversees Canada's spy agency, CSIS. Word that Strahl has been hired as a lobbyist for pipeline company Enbridge has raised concerns among environmentalists and others.Former cabinet minister Chuck Strahl was appointed last year to chair the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which oversees Canada’s spy agency, CSIS. Word that Strahl has been hired as a lobbyist for pipeline company Enbridge has raised concerns among environmentalists and others. (Canadian Press)

A former head of the committee that oversees Canada’s spies has a warning for the current chair: It’s generally not a good idea for someone in their position to act as a lobbyist.

Paule Gauthier was commenting on questions surrounding former Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl, currently the head of the Security Intelligence Review Committee.

Strahl has come under fire after it was revealed he is also a registered lobbyist for Enbridge, the company pushing to build the Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to B.C.

SIRC’s job is to monitor the activities of CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which has been known to keep tabs on environmentalists and native groups opposed to pipelines. Forest Ethics, a group opposed to Northern Gateway, issued a statement this week calling on Strahl to step down as SIRC chair.

Gauthier, who served as chair of SIRC from 1996 to 2005, doesn’t see a conflict of interest in Strahl working as a lobbyist, but acknowledges it could create the perception of one.

“I think it would be much better to refrain from these activities,” she said in an interview from her law office in Quebec City.

Gauthier says if Strahl has followed the rules and is satisfied he’s not in conflict, there shouldn’t be a problem. But she can see how a SIRC chair doing lobbying work could raise eyebrows.

“It’s putting himself or herself in maybe a difficult situation that you cannot expect when you accept the mandate as a lobbyist,” she said.

Strahl has been quoted as saying he has checked with the federal ethics commissioner to make sure his work is above board. He told one interviewer if SIRC were asked to look at any files involving pipelines, he wouldn’t touch them.

Part-time job

The position of SIRC chair is a part-time job paid on a per diem basis — about $600 a day plus travel expenses. Another former chair says that’s part of the problem.

Ronald Atkey was appointed the first-ever SIRC chair when the committee was established in 1984. He now teaches at the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario.

Atkey has long argued the position of chair should be a full-time job with a full-time salary so anyone serving would not have to look for outside work.

“I think the two organizations that Canadians should worry the most about are CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada) and CSIS,” he said by phone from London, Ont.

“They’re fine organizations with fine people doing important work. But they’re asked to go close to the line in complying with the law. I think, therefore, to give public comfort that these groups are monitored properly after the fact, I think a full-time watchdog may be in order.”

Wesley Wark sees merit in that idea. He’s a security expert and visiting professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. A part-time chair, he says, is “one of a number of problems that makes the Security Intelligence Review Committee less robust than it could be.”

“I think the position should be full-time and we should also define the job properly,” Wark said.

“You do want someone with considerable stature, considerable power, considerable experience. And somebody really to be a critic when criticism is needed.”

Office cut in 2012

Wark says there was more of that critical oversight when CSIS had its own inspector general.

The Conservative government abolished that office in 2012, arguing it would save money and end duplication by allowing SIRC to take over all monitoring of CSIS. The outgoing director of the inspector general’s office, Eve Plunkett, warned at the time the closure would be a “huge loss.”

Wark believes the government regarded the office and its often critical reviews of CSIS as “an annoyance.” As for Chuck Strahl, Wark says he’s less concerned about the former cabinet minister’s lobbying work than he is with SIRC’s overall ability to act as an effective watchdog.

“I just think, given the ways in which the intelligence world in Canada has been transformed and the problems that it presents and the skepticism that I think now surrounds the notion that anybody is really keeping a watch on intelligence agencies to make sure they don’t break the law or abuse their powers, I think something does need to be done,” he said.

“And that’s the real story. It’s not whether Mr. Strahl is a lobbyist. It’s what do we need to do to fix SIRC.”

Former Tory minister on the hot seat over Enbridge lobbying gig – Inside Politics

Former Tory minister on the hot seat over Enbridge lobbying gig – Inside Politics.

Former Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl is facing questions over a possible conflict of interest after the Vancouver Observer revealed that he’s been hired by Enbridge to help them sell the provincial BC government on the merits of the Northern Gateway pipeline project.

On Monday, ForestEthics Advocacy issued a statement calling on Strahl to step down from his current gig as chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the five-person board charged with keeping an eye on Canada’s top secret spy agency.

“In late 2013 it emerged that the Harper government had used CSIS and the RCMP to spy on critics of oil pipeline projects, including the Sierra Club, the Council of Canadians and Idle No More,” the release noted. .

“ForestEthics Advocacy and its supporters were among those Canadians targeted for surveillance. Given these events, and Strahl’s close ties to both his former colleagues in Ottawa and Canada’s spy agency, his registration to lobby for Enbridge is–at best–a conflict of interest. ”

Later that day, New Democrat natural resources critic and BC MP Nathan Cullen put out a release claiming that Strahl had been “caught” lobbying for the company.

Cullen acknowledges that, as a former minister, Strahl is currently barred from lobbying the federal government under the cooling-off provisions put in place by the Conservatives in 2006, but warns that “vague guidelines” could allow him to “skirt the rules and lobby the province. even on a federal pipeline issue.”

But under current federal ethics rules, the SIRC chairmanship is considered a part-time appointment, which exempts Strahl from many of the specific restrictions imposed by the Conflict of Interest Act.

Read the full list of do’s and don’ts for part-time public office holders here.

Unlike a full-time reporting public office holder, Strahl is no longer obliged to disclose his outside activities to the ethics commissioner, or provide the same sort of public declaration of assets, liabilities and other income that he had to file during his tenure in cabinet.

He is, however, still subject to the five-year ban on lobbying the federal government, as well as the general provisions of the Conflict of Interest Act that apply to all public office holders, which forbid him from using his current position, or information that isn’t available to the general public, to influence any decision that could further private interests.

That doesn’t mean he can’t work for Enbridge — or, indeed, lobby the province on its behalf. He just can’t exploit inside information, or his part-time gig at SIRC, while doing so.

Still, given the political sensitivities surrounding both the pipeline file and the conduct of Canada’s domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, it seems unlikely that the controversy over his dual roles will be put to rest simply by pointing out that he’s following the rules.

This was, after all, the government that came to power vowing to block the so-called ‘revolving door’ between politics and private sector advocacy.

Given that, it’s fair to ask whether it makes sense to treat a highly sensitive post like the SIRC chairmanship as just another part-time job.

Spy watchdog to investigate CSIS visit to Hamilton man’s home – Latest Hamilton news – CBC Hamilton

Spy watchdog to investigate CSIS visit to Hamilton man’s home – Latest Hamilton news – CBC Hamilton. (source)

The watchdog agency that oversees the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) says it will review the complaint of a Hamilton man who alleges agents visited his house to “intimidate” him.

The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), the five-person board of political appointees that examines CSIS’s operations, has tapped chair Chuck Strahl to investigate the claim put by longtime activist Ken Stone.

In July, Stone made a formal complaint to SIRC about a Jan. 25 visit by CSIS agents to his Mountain home.

Ken StoneHamilton activist Ken Stone said CSIS agents paid him a visit at his home on Jan. 25, two weeks after an op-ed he wrote criticizing the prime minister’s approach on Iran was published in the Hamilton Spectator. (Courtesy of Ken Stone)

​Stone, long a vocal labour and anti-racism advocate, said the agents asked him about an op-ed he wrote titled “Harper is wrong in demonizing Iran” that was published in the Jan. 11 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

In his letter to SIRC, the 67-year-old alleges that the visit was intended “to intimidate me and members of my family from lawfully exercising our Charter rights to freedom of expression and association” and, counter to CSIS’s mandate, did not address a meaningful security threat.

The visit, he wrote, “caused me and my family a considerable amount of anxiety.” He has asked for a formal apology from CSIS as well as statement from SIRC demanding that CSIS “cease and desist from home and workplace visits to residents of Canada that are designed to intimidate residents of Canada from exercising their Charter rights.”

Last week, Stone received a letter stating that SIRC will hold hearings into the case, but a date for the proceedings has not been set.

Stone said he plans to attend the hearings in Ottawa, and will retain a lawyer to help him make his case.

Both ‘pleased’ and ‘disappointed’

Stone said he’s pleased the committee has chosen to take on his case, but he is doubtful that the process will yield the answers he seeks.

“On the one hand, I’m pleased that they have taken up the complaint because they had the discretion not to take up the complaint. The fact that they chose to take it up is a good sign,” he said.

However, Stone said he’s “disappointed” that Strahl, a former Conservative MP and federal cabinet minister, has been assigned to investigate the case.

“He’s a Conservative Party hack and I don’t expect a lot of sympathy from him.”

That Strahl and his fellow SIRC members are political appointees “shows a fundamental problem with oversight over CSIS,” Stone added.

Committee members, he said, would put their jobs at risk if they slammed the government’s policies, and neither CSIS nor Parliament are required to adopt SIRC’s recommendations.

Contacted by CBC Hamilton on Thursday, SIRC said it would not be able to respond to Stone’s criticism. But in an interview with CBC Hamilton in March, SIRC senior counsel Sylvie Roussel defended the committee’s integrity.

“We have a process and we follow that process,” she said, noting that panel members “take their role very seriously.”

‘Canadians deserve better’

Jean Paul Duval, a spokesman with Public Safety Canada, said the ministry does not comment on specific cases.

However, in an email statement to CBC Hamilton, defended SIRC’s review process.

“SIRC is at arm’s length from the Government and provides independent review that CSIS activities comply with law and Ministerial Direction,” he wrote.

When Stone first went public about the CSIS visit in the winter, he initially said he would not go through with making a complaint to SIRC, figuring it would be futile exercise. He later decided he wanted to his grievance on record, regardless of the outcome.

On Thursday, Stone said he hopes the government will eventually adopt an civilian oversight body — akin to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission — that is independent and not led by political appointees.

“All in all, it’s not a satisfactory oversight process,” Stone said. “Canadians deserve better.”

 

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