Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Give Parliament the Power to Scrutinize Spy Agencies

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Give Parliament the Power to Scrutinize Spy Agencies

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: Give Parliament the power to scrutinize spy agencies

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An editorial from the Toronto Star, published Feb. 25:

Just how many Canadians had their personal information handed over to the Americans and other allies when Ottawa's electronic spies dropped the ball a few years ago and unlawfully passed along metadata to foreign security services without scrubbing it first? Was it hundreds, thousands, millions?

Jean-Pierre Plouffe, the commissioner-watchdog for the Communications Security Establishment, can't say. Because he doesn't know. "It's impossible to know the exact figure," he told the Senate's national security committee a few days ago. We can only wonder.

How long did the CSE security breach go on before it was noticed? Was it a year? Two? More? Again, Plouffe is in the dark. CSE "didn't know for how long the problem existed," he told the committee.

And just what personal information ended up in the hands of Canada's "Five Eyes" allies, the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand? There's no prize for guessing that, either. Plouffe doesn't know. "After a certain time, data disappears," he said.

But rest assured, CSE said in a press release after Plouffe addressed the committee, "the privacy impact is assessed as low."

Really? CSE, which reports to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, is barred by law from targeting Canadians. Yet it passed on a torrent of so-called metadata information and now wants to wave off the breach as small potatoes. If anyone needed more evidence that our security agencies ought to be more transparent and accountable for their activities, this is it.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has good reason to press ahead expeditiously with legislation to create an all-party committee of parliamentarians chaired by Ottawa Liberal MP David McGuinty to monitor the country's fast-expanding national security establishment. As the Star has argued before, the committee should have a robust mandate to provide active oversight as its British counterpart does, not just retrospective review. It should be able to probe policy, administration, spending and operations. And it should have a strong research team. …

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