Former Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Chuck Strahl has been named to chair the committee that reviews Canada’s spy agency — the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
BC Civil Liberties Association president Robert Holmes welcomed Strahl’s appointment, but hoped the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) will be given adequate resources to carry out its “watch dog” duties over CSIS, especially in light of the elimination of the Inspector General’s Office.
That million-dollar cut was contained in the omnibus bill that Conservative MPs approved last week.
The Inspector General’s role was also to monitor CSIS, and Public Affairs Minister Vic Toews was criticized by Opposition MPs for making the cut while the committee chair was still vacant.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the appointment in a brief news release last Thursday.
Strahl said it’s true SIRC shared the job of monitoring CSIS with the Inspector General, but he believed his appointment was more the result of the resignation of the former chair.
He said SIRC – which meets three or four times a month — can’t function without a chair.
“I wasn’t angling for the job,” Strahl said. “But when the PM’s office calls, it’s hard to say no.”
“It’s an honour to do it,” he said.
CSIS was given “extraordinary powers” to investigate terrorist activities around the world, but sometimes those investigations touch the lives of Canadians and their Charter rights.
“This committee was put in place to ensure those rights are adequately protected,” Strahl said.
Holmes said SIRC’s annual report to Parliament is “one of the checks and balances that Canadians look to in order to ensure government agencies …. are kept within their proper boundaries and won’t discredit or embarrass us by failing to live up to the standards we expect.”
“But unless you give them the resources to do the job in an effective way … you really don’t get the results you want,” he said.
In 2007, Harper gave an apology and $10.5 million compensation to Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen detained by U.S. authorities in 2002 on suspicions of being a member of Al Qaeda and deported to his native Syria, even though the government there was known to use torture.
A Canadian commission publicly cleared Arar of any links to the terrorist group.
Holmes said CSIS has in the past “tramped upon the rights of people within Canada, who have the right to “not having their private affairs snooped into.”
“I have to say Mr. Strahl is well qualified as a public servant and former cabinet minister,” he said, but “one hopes they give him and the committee the kind of resources needed” to meet the agency’s obligations at home and abroad.