Earlier this month Daniel Livermore wrote how recent appointments to the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which is tasked with reviewing the activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), could not save “a bad institution.” The appointees are Mr. Pierre Blaise, who will act as the chairman of SIRC, and Marie-Lucie Morin. Combined with the current members, the SIRC committee will now have it’s full five-person complement.
Livermore focuses on deficiencies in SIRC’s mandate, namely: that SIRC operates in a silo and thus cannot understand how CSIS interoperates with other security, policing, and intelligence bodies; that SIRC does not provide unredacted reviews of CSIS activities to parliamentarians and thus there is limited parliamentary accountability; and that SIRC’s reports do not clearly lead to punishments for, or remediations of, CSIS’s inappropriate activities. Livermore’s concerns largely reflect those which were raised in our recent report, “The Governance of Telecommunications Surveillance: How Opaque and Unaccountable Practices and Policies Threaten Canadians.”
Left undiscussed by Livermore, however, is how the newly appointed SIRC committee members showcase a quiet – and potentially significant – shift away from the intended composition of SIRC. As discussed in our report, “while long-term insiders of the intelligence community might have greater insight into the CSIS’s activities, parliament worried that full-time committee members were more likely to be co-opted by the intelligence community.” Parliament, from the inception of SIRC, was mindful that the committee members should be kept free from being co-opted by the agency that they were responsible for reviewing.
Pierre Blaise, who served as minister of justice under Brian Mulroney and, later, as chief justice of the Federal Court of Appeal, may meet these basic criteria: he has not formally worked within the Canadian intelligence community, and it is unclear how involved he actually was with CSIS during his tenure as justice minister. Marie-Lucie Morin, in contrast to Mr. Blaise, does not meet those basic criteria. She is a former National Security Adviser and foreign services officer; in at least the former role she was situated in the Canadian intelligence community. While she will possess a high-level of expertise concerning national security issues the parliament that created SIRC was concerned with keeping individuals with her qualifications off of the review committee in the first place.
While reporters and analysts have rightly noted that having more people on the SIRC committee will relieve some of the pressures it has faced over the past few years, and that a high level of expertise is now being brought onto the committee, it is not clear that the SIRC committee’s current composition accords with how parliament intended the committee to be staffed. When CSIS was created there were intentional safeguards put in place to limit or prevent any given committee member from being ‘captured’ by the intelligence community. At least one of the new members was previously a member of the intelligence community and thus may not need to be ‘captured’ at all.