This is a good news-bad news thing, but I thought I’d get the good news out of the way first: it seems that our government is actually cooperating on something. Unfortunately, the media completely missed the story.
Canada’s security intelligence service (CSIS) is overseen by a review agency known as the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC). SIRC is charged with monitoring CSIS and investigating complaints, generally ensuring that CSIS doesn’t wander off the reservation and start criminally burning down barns in Quebec like its predecessor, the RCMP Security Service, did. SIRC has generally failed in its job, as can be seen in the general illegal expansion of CSIS into foreign intelligence abroad, and as I will discuss in my next post.
One thing SIRC is doing well, though, is bringing together the political parties in a minority Parliament. The current head of SIRC, Dr. Arthur Porter, just gave his first interview, and the media poked fun at the fact that aside from Porter, an oncologist, the current committee consists of
a neurosurgeon who was once a Quebec politician, the head of Toronto’s United Way, a former New Brunswick politician turned businessman and a one-time federal cabinet minister who now works as a consultant.
Yes, well. Actually, I’ll just rephrase that the way the media should have put it: a former Conservative Minister of National Revenue (Carol Skelton), a former Liberal Quebec health minister with ties to Saudi Arabia (Philippe Couillard), a former New Brunswick Liberal fisheries minister involved in the health insurance industry (Denis Losier), and a former NDP Ontario health minister, Frances Lankin. So it seems our government is willing to share the largesse and allow the opposition parties to keep an eye on the intelligence sector. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the appointments make clear just how meaningless SIRC’s role is. All of the appointees have one thing in common: a background in healthcare. None of them know a thing about intelligence or national security. The chair, Porter, isn’t even really Canadian — he flits around the Caribbean, the United States and Great Britain fulfilling an enormous number of high-level academic and hospital administrative jobs in addition to chairing the SIRC meetings a few times a year.
This tells me two things. First, it’s hard to believe SIRC is doing a good job of monitoring CSIS. Second, it’s hard to believe that CSIS trusts them enough to be very forthcoming about any potential skeletons in the closet. Which is probably just fine with Porter and his crew, because they won’t know what to look for anyway. They will rely on their couple of dozen researchers (about 1 hall monitor for every 100 CSIS agents), who will suffer at least to some extent from the lack of clear support by their superiors.
In short, it’s a recipe for disaster, which is where the second part of this — the bad news part — comes in.Tweet