Former PMs call for oversight of national security activities
(February 19, 2015) – Today, four former prime ministers published a statement in The Globe and Mail and La Presse calling urgently for an enhanced approach to national security review and oversight in the country.
“Canada needs independent oversight and effective review mechanisms more than ever, as national security agencies continue to become increasingly integrated, international information sharing remains commonplace and as the powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies continue to expand with new legislation,” read the statement.
The statement is penned by four former Prime Ministers – Jean Chrétien, Joe Clark, Paul Martin and John Turner – and endorsed by Ministers of Justice, Ministers of Public Safety, Solicitors General, Supreme Court of Canada Justices, and members of national security, law enforcement and privacy review bodies.
“The four of us most certainly know the enormity of the responsibility of keeping Canada safe, something always front of mind for a prime minister,” wrote the former Prime Ministers. “We have come together with 18 other Canadians who have served as Supreme Court of Canada justices, ministers of justice and of public safety, solicitors-general, members of the Security and Intelligence Review Committee and commissioners responsible for overseeing the RCMP and upholding privacy laws.”
“Yet we all also share the view that the lack of a robust and integrated accountability regime for Canada’s national security agencies makes it difficult to meaningfully assess the efficacy and legality of Canada’s national security activities,” continued the statement. “This poses serious problems for public safety and for human rights.”
Civil Liberties groups across the country are supporting the statement, including Amnesty International, the BC Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, La Ligue des droits et libertés, and the National Council for Canadian Muslims.
The House of Commons is currently debating Bill C-51, which would give CSIS broad powers to deal with suspected threats to national security.
“National security agencies, like all government institutions, must be accountable to the public,” noted the statement. “Accountability engenders public confidence and trust in activities undertaken by the government, particularly where those activities might be cloaked in secrecy. Independent checks and balances ensure that national security activities are protecting the public, and not just the government in power.”
“Oversight and review mechanisms are necessary to make sure that powers are being exercised lawfully, and that government officials are not called upon to undertake activities that might expose them or Canada to legal liability either at home or abroad.”