Above: Did Canadian authorities let the Americans spy on world leaders during the G-20 summit in Toronto? As Mike Le Couteur reports, the allegations could not only damage Canada’s reputation, but it’s also against the law.
VANCOUVER AND OTTAWA – We don’t know who exactly the U.S. may have been spying on from its embassy in Ottawa during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto, but the fact a government agency may have facilitated American espionage on Canadian soil is raising eyebrows.
The allegation is yet another spy revelation that comes from documents obtained by Edward Snowden — the former U.S. security contractor who has been releasing a trove of classified information about the intelligence-gathering activities of the U.S. government and its spying partners.
In Canada, that’s the Communication Security Establishment of Canada or CSEC.
If CSEC allowed the U.S. to carry out spying on Canadian soil, communication privacy advocates say it could not only be another blow to relations with foreign governments, but also against Canadian law.
“CSEC is not authorized to conduct spying operations on Canadian soil,” said David Christopher of the Vancouver-based Internet freedom organization OpenMedia.ca. “They’re not actually allowed to spy on Canadians [or non-Canadians within Canadian borders], although many legal experts have been doing so. But, the fact that CSEC actually authorized a huge spying operation on Canadian soil is shocking.”
Neither the Canadian nor the U.S. governments would comment on the allegation on Thursday.
A U.S. State Department official told Global News in an email “the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.”
Canada’s Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, facing questions from the Opposition in the House of Commons, would only say CSEC is “prohibited from targeting Canadians.”
“And CSEC cannot ask our international partners to act in a way that circumvents Canadian laws,” Nicholson said.
But a report by CBC News alleges CSEC was not only well aware, but approved the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) “providing support to policymakers” at the summits.
“The fact that Canada was facilitating this illegal spying on leaders of other friendly countries — you know, friends and allies of Canada around the world — it fits with a pattern of CSEC behaviour, where this agency is recklessly endangering important foreign relationships of Canada’s,” Christopher told Global News.
He said the Toronto G8 and G20 Summits, in Huntsville and Toronto, were at a “contentious time” and “economic espionage” would have given the U.S. an advantage.
“There was a big debate about how the world best pull itself of the global recession, that was raging then even worse than it is now,” he said.
“This seems like it’s much closer to what was happening with CSEC spying on Brazil… that it was done for economic reasons, that it was done to advance U.S. policy interests at the summit to the detriment of the interests of Canada’s other G20 partners,” Christopher said.
Like OpenMedia.ca, Royal Military College of Canada associate professor Christian Leuprecht wants more government oversight into CSEC’s activities.
He’s not sure if anything illegal was done, but explained there are concerns about what approval CSEC may have gotten to allow the U.S. to carry out spy operations within Canadian borders.
“The question to ask here is was this standard operating procedure because essentially CSEC was doing cooperation with the NSA, as it would do on a day-to-day basis,” Leuprecht said on Thursday. “Or, did the type of cooperation we saw here with the NSA go beyond standard operating procedure, in which case we would need to ask questions about did CSEC obtain the necessary clearances it needed both legally and politically?”
He said Canadians need to know that surveillance operations are carried out “within the rule of law, within Canada’s legal framework and within the constitutional constraints that are imposed on these organizations.”
As it stands, one commissioner is responsible for overseeing the entire agency and the actions of more than 2,000 CSEC employees.
That’s good enough for the Department of National Defence — the mandate that CSEC falls under.
“CSEC’s activities are reviewed by an independent commissioner. And, that independent commissioner has indicated, for the last 16 years, that CSEC has complied with all Canadian laws,” Minister Rob Nicholson said in response to criticism from NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair during question period.
Mulcair said he was well aware of the rules that CSEC is supposed to follow but the question remained whether or not the agency respected the law.
Christopher said he’s certain what we know, from Snowden, about Canada’s spy activities is only “the tip of the iceberg.” He said Canadians deserve to know the true extent to which CSEC has been spying on partners, and that the government can “rein in [the] spy agency.”
“At the end of the day CSEC is a government agency. It’s paid for through tax dollars like any other government agency,” he said. “All of these actions are being done in Canadians’ name. So, Canadians do have a right to learn about what’s going on.”
“[CSEC is] secretive and it’s out of control and they’re recklessly damaging Canadian relationships with international partners, while at the same time undermining democracy here at home,” he said.
*With files from Mike Le Couteur and Bryan Mullan
© Shaw Media, 2013