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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.

Info sharing between CSIS and CSEC concerns security watchdog – Politics – CBC News

Info sharing between CSIS and CSEC concerns security watchdog – Politics – CBC News. (source)

A federal review agency says sensitive information gathered by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service could be abused by Canada's allies due to lax sharing policies, in an annual report tabled in Parliament on Thursday.A federal review agency says sensitive information gathered by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service could be abused by Canada’s allies due to lax sharing policies, in an annual report tabled in Parliament on Thursday.

A federal review agency says sensitive information gathered by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service could be abused by Canada’s allies due to lax sharing policies.

In its annual report, the watchdog that keeps an eye on CSIS flags concerns about what happens to intelligence that CSIS passes to the national eavesdropping agency, which in turn shares the details with foreign allies.

The report underscores the fact CSIS is collaborating ever more closely with Communications Security Establishment Canada, which has come under scrutiny lately due to its participation in the international Five Eyes alliance.

CSEC, which monitors foreign telephone, satellite and Internet traffic, shares information with the U.S. National Security Agency and counterparts in Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

The American NSA has been the subject of almost daily headlines due to leaks from former contractor Edward Snowden that have revealed the agency’s vast surveillance of worldwide communications.

In its report, tabled in Parliament, the Security Intelligence Review Committee recommends CSIS develop clearer and more robust principles of co-operation with CSEC to ensure appropriate information sharing.

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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