Not any more

Harper’s ex-adviser urges caution on national security czar

In Canada on August 17, 2010 at 09:16

The former national security adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper is urging Ottawa to proceed with caution before creating a powerful national-security czar in Canada – the most prominent recommendation to come from the exhaustive, four-year inquiry into the Air India bombing.

Margaret Bloodworth, who retired from public service more than a year ago, addressed the centrepiece of Mr. Justice John Major’s report during a panel discussion Monday, saying: “I’m no longer the national security adviser and I never will be again … but I have some concerns about his proposal.”

Judge Major’s key recommendation, which has not been enacted and was made as part of his report into the 1985 bombing that killed 280 Canadian citizens, was designed to bridge the ongoing jurisdictional divide between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.

The judge found that CSIS had developed the “de facto ability” to determine how the government responds to a terrorist threat because it is reluctant to share information with the RCMP. The spy agency has traditionally been fearful of sharing intelligence out of fear that its clandestine sources will be exposed in court.

Under the judge’s proposal, the Prime Minister’s national security adviser – currently Marie-Lucie Morin – would act as an arbiter over information that the RCMP covets and CSIS protects.

But Ms. Bloodworth, who was speaking at a meeting of the Canadian chapter of the International Commission of Jurists, highlighted two potential problems with expanding the powers of her former post. “I would advise caution …” she said.

First, she said, because this new czar would be unelected, it would raise questions of ministerial accountability. Currently, the Minister of Public Safety is ultimately responsible for the actions of CSIS, but it’s unclear who would be held accountable for the decisions of such a powerful adviser.

“I think there’s also a potential impact on police discretion,” said Ms. Bloodworth, pointing out that one of the underlying principles of democracy is firm independence of law enforcement from government. If the new national-security czar controlled the information the RCMP was allowed to see, some might see it as encroaching on that principle, she said.

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews could not say where the government stood in terms of implementing the Air India inquiry’s recommendations. “Officials with the Department of Public Safety continue to review Justice Major’s report,” Christopher McCluskey said in an e-mailed statement.

Judge Major’s recommendation is in keeping with a trend throughout Western governments. The United States introduced a director of national intelligence on the advice of the 9/11 commission and similar expanded powers have been granted to directors in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Ms. Bloodworth, a career senior bureaucrat who also served as deputy minister to the Minister of Public Safety, also said that, although relations between the Mounties and CSIS have been historically chilly, they have improved since the Air India bombing. She cited the co-operation between both agencies in the investigation of the 2006 Toronto bomb plot, which resulted in numerous convictions and guilty pleas.

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