Ian Holloway appointed to Security Intelligence Review Committee

On the day his government is proposing new powers for CSIS, Stephen Harper has also moved to fill one of two vacancies on the spy service's oversight body by appointing Ian Holloway, the current dean of University of Calgary's law school.

Four of five positions on SIRC now filled, Deborah Grey still 'interim' chair

On the day his government is proposing new powers for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Stephen Harper has also moved to fill one of two vacancies on the spy service's oversight body with University of Calgary law dean Ian Holloway, pictured here with Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Christine Elliott, the widow of former federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. (Ian Holloway/Twitter )

On the day his government proposed new powers for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Stephen Harper also moved to fill one of two vacancies on the spy service's oversight body.

The appointment of Ian Holloway, the current dean of the law school at the University of Calgary, to the Security Intelligence Review Committee was announced by press release Friday morning.

The appointment still leaves one vacancy on the five-member board.

Holloway has a long background in both academia and private practice. He also served for 26 years in the Royal Canadian Navy as well as the Royal Australian Navy. A news release from the prime minister's office touts his "deep knowledge of security issues" as a result of his military service here and abroad.

Established in 1984 to serve as a watchdog for the Canadian spy service, SIRC is intended to provide an independent external review of CSIS's activities. It examines complaints by individuals and reports by ministers relating to national security.

Oversight concerns

Critics have accused the Harper government of not making CSIS oversight a priority.

"Gaps in the oversight regime were identified long ago, notably by Justice O’Connor in the report he made at the conclusion of the Arar Inquiry," said Canada's privacy commissioner, Daniel Therrien, in a statement Friday that expressed his concerns about the new anti-terrorism legislation. 

"Extending the jurisdiction of oversight bodies would be an important step towards the greater transparency that Canadians expect."

The Harper government eliminated the inspector general office at CSIS — which served as an internal watchdog — and transferred those responsibilities to SIRC in 2012, saving almost $1 million annually as part of government-wide austerity measures.

The inspector general's final few annual reports had criticized CSIS for an increasing number of errors.

A Liberal motion to establish a parliamentary committee to monitor Canada's national security agencies failed to pass in the House of Commons a year ago. Canada is the only country in the "Five Eyes" intelligence network — which includes Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States — not to have some kind of proactive parliamentary oversight for its spy service.

Meanwhile, vacancies at SIRC went unfilled for months.

"If you're going to have expanded powers for any of these agencies, there should be a commensurate oversight," NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar told reporters Friday. "What we see right now with CSIS, for instance, the oversight body doesn't actually have a full complement of people appointed to oversee them."

But past appointment decisions have proven controversial for the Harper government.

A previous SIRC chair, Arthur Porter, resigned in 2011 after being accused of fraud in his past business dealings and is still in a Panamanian jail on fraud charges.

Conflict of interest controversies

Former Reform and Conservative MP Deborah Grey continues to serve as the body's interim chair, following the resignation of the previous chair, Chuck Strahl, over conflict of interest allegations.

The other two current members are former RCMP officer and corporate security specialist Gene McLean and legal expert Yves Fortier. The recent end of Frances Lankin's five-year term leaves one outstanding vacancy.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association wrote to SIRC last fall demanding Fortier recuse himself from the oversight body's investigation into the surveillance of environmental activists, following complaints that CSIS gathered and shared information about campaigners opposed to Canada's energy policies. Fortier once sat on the board of TransCanada Pipelines — the company behind the Keystone XL project.

The opposition is consulted before appointments to SIRC are announced but they cannot block the appointments when they do not approve. In November, the NDP released letters it wrote to Harper opposing his previous three appointments over concerns about potential conflicts of interest and appropriate qualifications.