The Harper government has quietly introduced strict new security vetting for nominees to Canada's federal spy watchdog after chariman Arthur Porter resigned amid concerns about his business dealings.
Appointees to the Security Intelligence Review Committee now must be security cleared to the top-secret level — a rigorous process that wasn't in place when Porter joined in 2008 or became chairman in 2010.
Prior to Porter's resignation in November 2011, potential appointees were subject to only a limited background check — even though review committee members see the most sensitive files held by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
The Prime Minister's Office tightened the screening requirements following Porter's abrupt departure, said Adam Green, a spokesman for the intelligence review committee.
"All of these changes came from that office," he said in an interview.
Former cabinet minister Chuck Strahl, who succeeded Porter as review committee chairman, was the first appointee to the spy watchdog to be screened to the top-secret level in keeping with the new procedures, Green said.
The other two members of the committee were named before the procedures came into effect.
It was five years ago when the Conservatives first appointed Porter — a medical doctor and cancer specialist — to the review committee, which keeps an eye on CSIS and investigates complaints about spy service. He became chairman less than two years later.
Porter, a native of Sierra Leone, quit the review committee after the National Post newspaper revealed he once made a deal — that ultimately fell through — with middleman Ari Ben-Menashe on a $120-million aid-for-development initiative from Russia.
It would have given African Infrastructure Group, a firm owned by Porter and his family, the chance to manage infrastructure projects in his homeland.