Ralph Goodale makes 'no excuse' for CSIS metadata breach, promises action
Ralph Goodale appears to have some problematic spies on his hands.
The Public Safety Minister is leading the government's response to Thursday's court decision on the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. It slammed CSIS for duping judges and illegally using huge amounts of data on regular Canadians.
This comes during a week when it was revealed Canadian police have been spying on journalists.
Carol Off: Minister Goodale, CSIS collected and retained all kinds of data about Canadians who were not suspects in any crimes. Do you think what CSIS was doing is wrong?
Ralph Goodale: The opinion of the court is absolutely unequivocal. There is no legal authority for the retention and use of this category of information called "associated data."
CO: And do you agreed with that? Do believe yourself that it was wrong what CSIS was doing?
RG: Yes, indeed. There's just no excuse for not complying with the law. CSIS says, in good faith, they believed that they were within the law, but the fact of the matter is judge Noel could find no legal authority to corroborate that position.
CO: If they thought that they were within the law, this is the other thing that the court has identified, it seems that they were concealing this program from the courts. Does that worry you?
RG: There are two parts to the judgment. One is the management of the information where the court said CSIS was clearly wrong. The second part of it was the duty of candour. Where the court raised issues about whether or not the agency was being sufficiently forthcoming. That, in fact, from a larger policy point of view, that's the larger concern. In order for security agencies to do the job, they need to have the confidence of the organizations that oversee them. In part, that is the Security Intelligence Review Committee. It was SIRC that actually first blew the whistle on this issue with associated data and the other form of scrutiny at the moment is the Federal Court. This needs to be absolutely forthcoming on all fronts to make sure that they are satisfying the information requirements of both SIRC and the Federal Court of Canada. Ultimately, when we get our legislation passed, they'll have that same duty with respect to the new committee of Parliamentarians.
CO: But when you say SIRC blew the whistle — it was after 10 years. You're saying you're putting new laws in place and changing the policies, but it seems that what you are going to put in place is that they will review the agency's actions after the fact. So are we not going to be in the same place down the road?
RG: Actually, that's not the case, Carol. This is a misconception about the nature of Bill C-22, the new committee of Parliamentarians. It has a comprehensive review function, but it also has the authority to look at all agencies of the Government of Canada, not just one, but all of them that have any security or intelligence operation. Secondly, they can examine current operations. So that introduces into our oversight architecture a new element that has never been there before.
CO: But are you confident with this new element that this would never happen again? That this would be impossible — that this kind of data could be collected and that they could keep this from the courts for such a long period of time?
RG: That is certainly my objective. The committee of Parliamentarians will be the first step in that process. A number of the expert witnesses that have come forward in dealing with Bill C-22 have said almost universally that it is a very good positive step in the right direction. But it by itself is not the only thing we need to do. There are some agencies in the government, for example like CBSA, the Canada Border Services Agency, that has no existing review or oversight body at all. There are other holes and gaps and, I must say, with this court ruling, the time lag is something that bothers me a great deal.
CO: It worries a lot of Canadians. So I'm wondering is anyone going to be held responsible for this? Are you going to fire anyone for what you've learned from the court?
RG: On the basis of what I know at the moment, there does not seem to be deliberate malfeasance here. But I have said today that I am going to examine that issue thoroughly with the executive management of CSIS, as well as getting the professional independent advice of SIRC and the Department of Justice, to make sure that what happened here was not a deliberate attempt to subvert public knowledge and information.
CO: The Federal Court of Canada has said that they illegally retained this data, that this was unlawful and that they attempted to conceal it from the courts. Isn't that serious enough to have someone fired?
RG: As I've said, I'm going to examine this with the executive management of the service. This is a problem that should not have happened and I will get to the bottom of the source and the reasoning. Bear in mind here, that CSIS was functioning on the basis of pretty clear legal opinions that they had from the Department of Justice.
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RG: I can't comment on the last 10 years that we weren't in government. But I can tell you that, on the basis on the information provided by the commissioner of the RCMP on Wednesday of this week and by the director of CSIS [on Thursday], the kind of activity that has raised such alarm bells, and rightly so, in Quebec, is not happening at the federal level.
CO: But CSIS director, Mr. Coulombe, you've just referred to him, he has said that they are not doing that now. But do you know if CSIS was doing that? The same people are still in place who were there when the previous government was there. Were they spying on journalists?
RG: I do not know the answer to that question. But I have been assured that that kind of activity is not taking place today and, quite frankly Carol, in relation to the last year in which we have been in office, a warrant would be required for that purpose. I would not authorize that kind of a purpose to exceed legal authority. I cannot comment on a period of time when we were not in office.
For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.