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Security agencies need parliamentary oversight

Victoria Times Colonist - February 3, 2015

By Michael De Rosenroll

Re: "Canada needs to watch the watchers," Jan. 30.

In asserting that 14 federal security agencies, including CSIS, are in need of greater oversight, Senator Colin Kenny has the right to be considered both expert and authoritative.

I served from 1986-98 as assistant inspector general of CSIS within an independent agency reporting to the solicitor general on whether that "spy agency" was keeping the minister appropriately informed and observing applicable laws and policies.

As the senator notes, this agency was recently abolished in favour of exclusive oversight by the Security Intelligence Review Committee.

I can attest to the evident competence and lofty motivations of the CSIS personnel I knew, as well as those of their RCMP and CSEC colleagues. I could also describe the sort of misdeeds and mishaps that expert external review sometimes bring to light.

Wait! No I can't do that - since I am bound by law and oath not to do so. I can, however, say that the time has come to establish some form of multiparty parliamentary oversight for the federal security community, as has already been done in allied countries. Equally, we need a professional system of expert independent oversight that covers all relevant agencies. Not that all abuses will be caught. But many will and many others will be deterred.

I won't address the latest security legislation introduced by the government, which piles on edgy new powers. But I am alarmed at the possibility of terror-mongering in this pre-election period. Suffice it to say that this legislation provides even more reason for urgent reform of the oversight regime.

Michael de Rosenroll

Victoria