Inside Politics

Rathgeber wants Parliament to keep a closer eye on Canadian spy agencies

In the wake of this week's incendiary, if as yet unconfirmed reports on Canada's alleged extraterritorial espionage activities, Independent MP Brent Rathgeber is calling for stronger parliamentary oversight of the shadowy Communications Security Establishment and other federal spy agencies.

We simply do not know why CSEC was intercepting communications of the Brazilian Mining Ministry. Opaqueness leads to suspicion and mistrust. Transparency leads to trust and confidence. But given the subject matter, we will likely never get answers to these critical questions. All of this reinforces the need for greater civilian and Parliamentary oversight of Canada's spy agencies. Assurance from credible watchdogs will satisfy most public concerns regarding the appropriateness of clandestine intelligence activities.

In the words of the outgoing Commissioner Decary, "the security and intelligence agencies understand they can speak more openly about their work without betraying state secrets or compromising national security. The greater the transparency, the less skeptical and cynical the public will be."

Rathgeber, who describes Brazil as "both an ally and trading partner" and, as such, "not the type of nation we want to irritate," also wants to know why Canada would intercept communications at the Brazilian energy ministry, as alleged -- and even publicly wonders if it had anything to do with those just-revealed closed-door confabs with Canadian mining and energy companies.

"If the briefings enable Canadian companies to protect their infrastructure from terrorism, that would be reasonable and necessary," he notes.

"If, however, trade secrets from foreign competitors are disclosed, the meetings enter the realm of industrial espionage.I got nervous when a Cable News security expert opined that national security includes economic security, including competitiveness."

Rathgeber points out that, despite its reputation for clandestine operations, CSEC actually has a website "complete with Government Advertising for such things as 'Information for Seniors' and Canada's non-existent Skills and Training Action Plan."

But although it reports, "theoretically," to Parliament through the Minister of Defence, albeit "theoretically," Rathgeber notes that, as yet, neither the minister nor the PM have answered questions from the media on the allegations.

As a result, the former Conservative backbencher confesses, he's "not confident" that the government "would be any more forthcoming with an explanation if Parliament were sitting."

Read his full post here.

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