Politics

Members of dormant national security roundtable seeking answers

A cross-cultural roundtable on security, which is supposed to meet twice a year to advise federal executives and cabinet on how security matters and government policies affect different ethnic communities, hasn’t met since 2014.

Cross-cultural round table on security is supposed to meet at least twice a year, but hasn't met since 2014

Members of the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security, which acts as a sounding board for national security matters, have not met since 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

A group of Canadians who advise the federal government on national security issues are in the dark about the future of a 16-member roundtable they were appointed to.

Members of the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security are supposed to meet in-camera at least twice a year, yet the group hasn't met since October 2014.

The roundtable was set up in 2005 to act as a sounding board for cabinet ministers and other high-ranking federal executives on how security matters and government policies affect different ethnic communities. Over the years, it has covered topics such as countering violent extremism, migration and cyber-security. 

"I feel I'm in limbo," said Farzana Hassan, a newspaper columnist and past-president of the Canadian Muslim Congress who was appointed to the roundtable in June 2015.

"It seemed like a very good fit and I jumped on the idea and I accepted the appointment, but I have not heard anything," she told CBC News.

This past spring, Hassan and several other members contacted by CBC received a letter informing them that the government is re-thinking the roundtable's activities and composition. 

"I get the sense that they would want us to resign because we were appointed by the previous government and, you know, this government's policies and outlines on certain issues is very different from the previous government," said Hassan.

"I feel I can do more. I can share my ideas, but I have not been given the opportunity to do so," she said.

Chair sees lack of communication

Myrna Lashley, a psychologist, was appointed to the roundtable in 2005 and has been the group's chairperson since 2007. But after receiving the letter in March, Lashley suspects her involvement has come to an end.

"Effectively when you get that letter, you have been told 'thank you,'" Lashley said.

In the meantime, Lashley is concerned the federal government is not communicating as effectively on national security issues with Canada's ethnically diverse communities, such as Syrian refugees.

In the past, Lashley says the group met with and advised ministers of public safety and justice as well as senior executives from the RCMP, CSIS and Canada Border Services Agency on all sorts of issues that could or would affect an array of cultural groups.

"We could give them an idea of how different communities might react to something so that they could formulate it in a way that would be acceptable to all Canadians," said Lashley.

Lashley points to the creation of the special advocate program, which provided independent, top-secret, security-cleared lawyers to represent people subject to a security certificate or immigration proceedings.

"We were the ones that said 'let's try a special advocate,' that came from us," Lashley said.​

The Department of Public Safety refused CBC's request for an interview. But in an email, a spokesperson said, "While the government is currently reviewing the membership of the table, it looks forward to resuming CCRS meetings in the near future."

About the Author

Alison Crawford is a senior reporter in CBC's parliamentary bureau, covering justice, public safety, the Supreme Court and Liberal Party of Canada.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.