WATCH ABOVE: Canada’s first chairman of the Security and Intelligence Review Committee says the government needs to establish more oversight to compensate for bill C-51.
OTTAWA —The Harper government has been getting an earful of criticism about bill C-51, its so-called anti-terror legislation, including from a high profile Conservative.
Committee hearings into the proposed legislation began last week, and what emerged were two fundamental complaints from the critics: questions of adequate oversight and whether the bill is even constitutional.
Ron Atkey, a former Progressive Conservative MP and the first chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the advisory group overseeing CSIS, spent his time before the committee discussing those issues.
Although he supports SIRC, Atkey said the committee doesn’t have the resources for adequate oversight, and doesn’t have the proper mandate.
“I think it’s an issue of resources, people power, investigators to work for the committee to do the job under a security-cleared basis,” he said in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark.
“I think SIRC has not grown exponentially as has CSIS … I think it’s been frozen in time essentially.”
To mitigate the implications of a hindered SIRC, Atkey suggested establishing a committee of parliamentarians from both chambers of Parliament to oversee spy agencies and act as an overview committee as issues arise.
“I think you also need a parliamentary committee to undertake a five-year review of these new legislative provisions, which are quite extreme in their nature, just as the CSIS act was reviewed in 1989, five years after it was introduced,” he said.
The Conservatives have resolutely contended the existing provisions under SIRC — a committee of prime ministerial appointments —provide sufficient oversight, even though the bill proposes expanding the powers of intelligence agencies.
“It’s a review committee, but it also has the ability to interact with those agencies and do so in a way that I think provides the understanding that all those activities will be reviewed. That is a form of oversight in my view,” said Justice Minister Peter MacKay.