Questioning the Minister on civilian oversight of CSIS

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):  Mr. Speaker, we know that members of the House were in attendance at the funeral of Corporal Nathan Cirillo today, and I know that we all were there in spirit, even as we continued our work today here in the House. Yesterday the government tabled new proposals to expand the powers of CSIS. These measures require careful study, particularly the role of special advocates.

Alongside providing more powers to CSIS, will the government also be moving forward on improving civilian oversight at the same time?

Hon. Steven Blaney (Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague, the member for Vancouver East, for paying tribute to Corporal Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. Today, our entire country is mourning a courageous man, a symbol of the best Canada has to offer. We are able to be parliamentarians and govern today because people sacrificed their lives and protected us.

Today we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):  Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minister’s words, but we also come back to the business at hand before the House. The Arar commission concluded in 2006 that improved civilian oversight of CSIS was needed, but for eight years, the Conservatives have ignored this recommendation. In the 2012 budget bill, the Conservatives eliminated the CSIS inspector general, and now there are two vacant positions on the Security Intelligence Review Committee.

After three consecutive years of cuts, is the minister re-examining the resources available to CSIS?

Hon. Steven Blaney (Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, regarding the hon. member’s two questions, there are provisions in the bill tabled today that would take into consideration the privacy rights of individuals. It is a good tool that would improve the safety of our country, and we intend to move forward. With regard to oversight of our intelligence, we have strong and robust oversight. We formerly had NDP members sitting on the advisory committee on that oversight body. I expect that our intelligence will follow up on its recommendations.

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):  Mr. Speaker, the reality is that SIRC is already overstretched and is not getting the co-operation from CSIS it needs. The minister does know this.

In fact, the report tabled on Friday noted that this small oversight body, now with only three members, reported “significant delays” in receiving information from CSIS. In one case, it said it was “seriously misled”.

I ask the minister again: Will he ensure that there will be enhanced civilian oversight to go along with any expanded powers of CSIS?

Hon. Steven Blaney (Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, I expect that the committee that oversees the operations of our intelligence agency will be properly completed. I thank the committee for its important report on the intelligence activities. It is important to maintain trust between our Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the review committee, the government, and Canadians, and all for the sole purpose of protecting the public. We will continue to support the efforts of the review committee so that it can achieve its mandate and be accountable to all parliamentarians.