Stephen Harper: “The Security Intelligence Review Committee … is a robust mechanism for independent, expert, third party oversight.”
By: Dana Wagner on
Stephen Harper, Prime Minister and Conservative MP for Calgary Southwest, during Question Period on February 3, 2015
An oversight mechanism? False. The CSIS Act and SIRC’s last annual report call SIRC a review body (the annual report adds: not an oversight body).FactsCan Score: False
The anti-terrorism law introduced on January 30, C-51, gives new powers to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) but not to the body that reviews it, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) (save for a new reporting requirement).
This has opened a debate on oversight. Do we currently have enough oversight? And, as the mandate of security agencies expands, does that oversight still do the job?
Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons on February 3 that “we already have a rigorous system of oversight on our national security and police agencies. Specifically on intelligence, we have the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which is a robust mechanism for independent, expert, third party oversight.”
Opposition MPs have argued that SIRC is in fact a review body, not an oversight body. We wanted to check if SIRC is, as Harper said, “a robust mechanism for independent, expert, third party oversight.”
The difference between the words “review” and “oversight” may seem minor, but not when used to describe SIRC. In its 2013-2014 annual report, which coincided with 30 years of operations, SIRC asked the question “What is the difference between an oversight and review body?” (p. 12).
The report authors wrote:
“An oversight body looks on a continual basis at what is taking place inside an intelligence service and has the mandate to evaluate and guide current actions in “real time.” SIRC is a review body, so unlike an oversight agency, it can make a full assessment of CSIS’s past performance without being compromised by any involvement in its immediate, day-to-day operational decisions and activities.”
This is a strong contradiction of Harper’s claim. So is the law that created SIRC.
According to the CSIS Act, SIRC’s primary mandate is three-fold. First, “to review,” second, “to arrange for reviews to be conducted,” and third, “to conduct investigations” on complaints, reports, and other referred matters.
Nothing in the Act allows SIRC to evaluate and guide current actions in real time, or, in other words and according to SIRC itself, to be an oversight body.
FactsCan score: False
Media Watch: On January 30, the CBC ran a story on the proposed law that said, “SIRC … has oversight of CSIS.”