As the government's anti-terrorism bill is set to enhance the powers of the national spy agency, a former member of the independent body that watches over the Canadian Security Intelligence Service is concerned it is not equipped to provide sufficient oversight.
Bob Rae — the former premier of Ontario and one-time interim leader of the Liberal Party — was for five years a member of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which keeps tabs on CSIS.
In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Rae told host Evan Solomon that although CSIS has a budget "well over a billion dollars," the agency meant to watch over it has scant resources in comparison.
"SIRC's budget is $3 million. So that's 0.3 — one third of one per cent of the [CSIS] budget," he said. "I believe very strongly that SIRC also suffers from a lack of resources. And, frankly, in the last few years particularly, from a lack of attention and respect from the government itself."
SIRC is meant to be a five-person committee, but Rae said vacancies have gone unfilled for months. There are currently four members on the committee.
Rae said another major problem is that there's "a lot" of government security work that has no oversight at all.
"If you read the annual report of SIRC going back many years, you'll see that virtually every single report complains about the jurisdiction issue — the fact that there's a lot of things that are going on that SIRC cannot deal with," he said. "And the government says, 'Sorry, we don't have to respond to your concerns on this front and that front, and that's, frankly, very troublesome."
Bill C-51, the new anti-terrorism legislation, aims to give Canada's spies powers that would go beyond just gathering intelligence, but also allow them to disrupt the activities of the people they're spying on. Rae said there needs to be a discussion about Parliament's role in watching over security work.
But the prime minister's parliamentary secretary Paul Calandra told The House that the non-partisan approach used to watch over CSIS is preferable to parliamentary oversight.
"It's robust, non-partisan and has proven to be very effective since the inception of CSIS. We're happy with what we have and we're going to continue on that. It's a made-in-Canada model," he said.