CSIS would use torture-tainted info: briefing note

Canada's spy agency says it would use information obtained through torture to derail a possible terrorist plot — a position critics argue will only encourage abusive interrogations.

Canada's spy agency says it would use information obtained through torture to derail a possible terrorist plot — a position critics argue will only encourage abusive interrogations.

Briefing notes prepared for CSIS director Dick Fadden for a CBC interview in June say the spy service must share with other authorities information about an imminent threat of an attack, even if there are doubts about how the information was obtained. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))
The statement from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, contained in briefing notes released to The Canadian Press, echoes remarks by a spy agency official that sparked a public controversy — and a quick retraction — last year.

CSIS will share information received from an international partner with the police and other authorities "even in the rare and extreme circumstance that we have some doubt as to the manner in which the foreign agency acquired it," say the notes prepared for use by CSIS director Dick Fadden.

The notes say that although such information would never be admissible in court to prosecute someone posing an imminent threat, "the government must nevertheless make use of the information to attempt to disrupt that threat before it materializes."

The CSIS position is "alarming" and contravenes a federal government directive to the spy agency to shun brutal methods, said NDP public safety critic Don Davies.

"CSIS appears to be trying to open the door to be able to rely on information derived from torture, and that's in violation of the policy."

The federal directive, made public last year, says the government "is steadfast in its abhorrence of and opposition to the use of torture by any state or agency for any purpose whatsoever."

It instructs CSIS to "not knowingly rely upon information which is derived from the use of torture" and to take measures "to reduce the risk that any action on the part of the Service might promote or condone, or be seen to promote or condone the use of torture."

CSIS position 'problematic': Amnesty

The CSIS position spelled out in the briefing notes falls short of an "absolute repudiation" of torture, said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada. On the contrary, it indicates the spy agency would use information gleaned through coercive tactics, he said.

"And that's problematic, because anything that sends a signal to torturers that there's a ready and willing market for the fruits of their misdeeds is only going to encourage further torture."

The briefing notes, drafted for Fadden's June interview with the CBC, were recently obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act. The CBC did not raise the subject of torture during the interview.

Chris McCluskey, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, said the government "is confident that CSIS is abiding by all international human rights standards, policies and directives in place, and has been presented with absolutely no credible reason to believe otherwise."

Critics say torture is not only a barbaric violation of fundamental human rights but also a highly unreliable method of intelligence-gathering because people being abused will often say anything to make the pain stop.

CSIS has never condoned torture and finds it abhorrent, the briefing notes say.

They add, however, that Canadians would not forgive the intelligence service if it completely ignored information that could have been used to investigate and prevent a terrorist attack because that tip came from a country with a suspect human rights reputation.

In addition to sharing such information with Canadian police, CSIS would pass it to relevant foreign agencies after taking steps to ensure it would be used appropriately, the notes say.

A federal inquiry by Justice Dennis O'Connor into the Maher Arar torture affair recommended in 2006 that policies include specific directions "aimed at eliminating any possible Canadian complicity in torture, avoiding the risk of other human rights abuses and ensuring accountability."

Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was jailed in Damascus and tortured into giving false confessions about terrorist links.

CSIS maintains it has implemented all of O'Connor's recommendations to prevent a recurrence.