An Hamilton, Ont., activist is demanding that Canada’s spy watchdog assign an adjudicator without ties to the oil and gas industry to review his complaint against the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency (CSIS).
The resignation of former MP Chuck Strahl as chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) has prompted a Ken Stone to raise concerns about whether he will get a fair hearing.
In October, SIRC — the government-appointed civilian body that oversees CSIS’s dealing with Canadians — assigned Strahl to review a claim submitted by Ken Stone. A longtime labour and environmental advocate, Stone filed a complaint to SIRC last year after CSIS agents made a visit to his home.
But on Friday, Strahl stepped down as the chair of SIRC after it was revealed that he works as a lobbyist for Enbridge, Inc.
Critics had charged it was inappropriate for the former Conservative cabinet minister to sit as a SIRC board member while serving the Calgary-based energy giant, whose proposed Northern Gateway pipeline has raised the ire of environmentalists and First Nations groups.
Strahl’s resignation has led Stone — who has demonstrated against proposed changes to Enbridge’s Ontario-to-Quebec Line 9 pipeline — to demand that SIRC assign a board member who does not have ties to the oil and gas industry to his case.
At least two SIRC appointees have connections to energy companies: Denis Losier, a board member with Enbridge’s
New Brunswick subsidiary and Yves Fortier, a former director of TransCanada Pipelines Ltd. Even though the content of Stone’s claim has little to do with his environmental activism, he says a SIRC member’s connections to the energy industry would still compromise the integrity of hearings into his case.
“I don’t think that my complaint against CSIS will get a fair hearing at SIRC if the investigation is led by somebody who is tied to the fossil fuel industry,” said Stone, a member of Hamilton 350, a climate change awareness group.
“Since they are very closely tied to the fossil fuel industry, they may have an axe to grind against me since I’m so involved to trying to stop [proposed changes to Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline].”
In July, Stone submitted a complaint to SIRC in response to a visit two CSIS agents made to his home in January 2013. The encounter came two weeks after the Hamilton Spectator published an op-ed he wrote titled “Harper is wrong in demonizing Iran.”
During the Jan. 25, 2013 exchange, Stone said, CSIS agents probed him about his views on Iran and a trip he made to the Middle Eastern country in October 2011. The agents' visit was an attempt to “to intimidate me and members of my family from lawfully exercising our Charter rights to freedom of expression,” he wrote in his complaint to SIRC.
Committee bound by conflict of interest laws
SIRC assistant research director Lindsay Jackson said she couldn't comment on particular cases, but added the committee will consider requests like Stone’s.
Jackson said SIRC adjudicators are legally responsible to declare any conflicts of interest and are barred by federal law from making decisions on issues that could in some way enrich their own private interests or those of family and friends.
The committee’s chair, a position currently held by former Canadian Alliance MP Deb Grey, decides on which members of the five-person board will take on a complaint.
However, Jackson said “it’s ultimately up to the member to decide” whether to recuse his or herself from reviewing a case.
SIRC is a quasi-judicial body that reviews citizen complaints about CSIS’s dealing with Canadians. Committee members’ findings are reported to the government, but their recommendations are not binding.
With Strahl’s seat vacant, only two of SIRC’s four active members — Grey and former Ontario NDP MPP Frances Lankin — have no apparent direct ties to the oil and gas industry.
A vocal critic of the Conservative government, Stone is also wary of Grey — a 2012 appointee with strong ties with the Tories — taking on his complaint.
“I think it’s another indication that SIRC is a very poor excuse for civilian oversight of CSIS.”