Canadian MP felt 'shadow of doubt' after spy agency warned him about diplomat
Parliamentarian says he thought it strange CSIS felt need to visit him over dealings with diplomat
A veteran Canadian MP met three times with the ambassador of a country in the crosshairs of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, leading CSIS to warn the parliamentarian away from further interactions, CBC News has learned.
"You just cast a shadow of doubt over everyone," the MP said, speaking confidentially because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the matter.
"Once you have that doubt placed on you, I don't know how you recover."
CBC News is not identifying the country in question in order to protect the MP's identity.
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CBC reached out to more than 30 MPs across party lines who identify as members of ethnic or religious minorities to ask if they thought they had ever been inappropriately surveilled by Canada's intelligence agencies.
The MP who spoke to CBC News said the ambassador reached out to him for a meeting and he felt he needed to oblige out of politeness — although he was well aware of Canada's issues with the government the diplomat represented.
"I may have met with him three times," the MP said.
A warning from CSIS
He said he was surprised when the spy agency reached out to him afterwards.
The MP said CSIS warned him, in a face-to-face encounter, to "be careful" because the diplomat in question was "not trustworthy" and "might be seeking information."
"It's not like I disagree," the MP said, adding he thought it was strange a Canadian intelligence official felt the need to visit him in person.
The MP said he never saw the ambassador again after hearing from CSIS.
"Obviously, CSIS's mandate is to protect our safety and security, and they keep an eye on foreigners who are agents of foreign states in Canada," the MP told CBC News.
He said he doesn't know how CSIS learned he had met with the ambassador.
"I assumed that they were tapping his phone," he said.
A recent court case lifted the veil on CSIS's embassy wiretapping methods.
Naval engineer Qing Quentin Huang was accused of providing Canadian military secrets to China. Last year, an Ontario Superior Court justice stayed his charges, citing an unreasonable delay.
The case against him was built largely on taped conversations. According to court documents, Huang's alleged 2013 phone calls were intercepted because CSIS was wiretapping the Chinese embassy in Ottawa as part of a highly classified investigation.
The Crown fought to prevent CSIS intelligence and its wiretap warrant applications from being aired in open court.
"Other countries send spies to Canada. We know this. And so we target them," said Stephanie Carvin, a former security analyst and an associate professor of national security studies at Carleton University.
Section 16 of the CSIS Act allows the agency to collect within Canada "foreign intelligence relating to the capabilities, intentions or activities of any foreign state or group of foreign states."
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By law, that foreign intelligence collection cannot be directed at Canadian citizens, permanent residents or corporations — but the line between domestic and foreign intelligence gathering can get blurry.
"As a part of their intelligence collection, they're catching people talk. If you talk to one of these spies and their communications are being monitored, you're caught up in that," said Carvin.
To wiretap an embassy, CSIS must first get ministerial approval and then seek warrant approval from the Federal Court.
"And that can be a wiretap, that can be a video camera, that can be hacking into your emails, that could be all kinds of very intrusive things," said Carvin.
That process happens behind closed doors. Even when such decisions are made public, they are almost entirely redacted.
A person might never know they were being listened to, said Carvin.
"A CSIS warrant never sees the light of day," she said. "Service warrants are subjected to a much higher level of scrutiny than police warrants for that reason, because there is no transparency in that way."
MP says CSIS should show more tact
Canadians can be targeted under section 12 of the CSIS Act, which gives CSIS authority to collect and analyze intelligence "on threats to the security of Canada."
The MP said he does not want to fault CSIS for doing its job but believes the agency could be more tactful about it.
"There's a total lack of cultural competency, understanding," the MP said.
Some of the more than 30 MPs contacted by CBC News serve in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet. Some ministers' offices said they would not be available for comment. International Trade Minister Mary Ng's office was the only one to provide a statement in reply.
In it, Ng said she "has a great deal of respect for the job that CSIS does, and we don't want to further compromise their intelligence collection efforts."
CSIS did not respond to CBC's request for comment by publication time.