The Current

More oversight of national security agencies coming, says Ralph Goodale

The Current follows up on security issues in Canada with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to ask what happened to all those Liberal election promises to amend the Harper government's anti-terror bill, C-51.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the government needs time to strike the right balance between civil liberties and national security with Bill C-51. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

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On Sept. 26, NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison introduced a private member's bill to repeal C-51 — the controversial anti-terrorism legislation that the Liberals inherited from the Conservatives.

C-51 has been decried by legal experts and civil libertarians for supporting national security at the expense of civil liberties. 

The Liberals supported the bill while in opposition and made an election promise to amend it. Even though the Trudeau government has been in power for almost a year, it says it must complete its own public consultation before making major changes. The Liberals did however introduce legislation this week to establish a committee of MPs and senators who will have security clearance to oversee Canada's national security agencies. 

Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that this committee is unique in the world and will have real-time oversight powers. 

"In Canada, we're taking the position that this committee of parliamentarians will have extraordinary access to classified information, and they will be able to look at every department and agency of the government of Canada that has any security or intelligence function," says Goodale.

"It will be up to the committee to decide where they want to look and they'll be able to follow the evidence from agency to agency to agency."

Goodale says the committee will have the capacity to scrutinize and report anything viewed as troublesome but cannot interfere in ongoing operations. So while the committee cannot put a stop to an operation— it can go to the prime minister and theoretically he can stop it. 

The committee of parliamentarians has seven members of parliament and two senators. Goodale tells Tremonti the real strength of this committee is that "it's not a body of experts but these are people with a public political profile."

"They cannot reveal classified information, but if they find something that is wrong they can go on the bully pulpit… tell parliament and tell Canadians something's going on here that we don't like — and they can keep making that public assertion until it's fixed to their satisfaction."

"It's a very powerful tool for accountability."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson and John Chipman.