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PACP Committee Report

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RESPONSE TO THE SEVENTEENTH REPORT OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS – NATIONAL SECURITY: INTELLIGENCE AND INFORMATION SHARING

On June 19, 2009, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts submitted its Report to Parliament.  The focus of the Committee’s report was Chapter 1, National Security: Intelligence and Information Sharing of the 2009 Status Report of the Auditor General of Canada.  Pursuant to Standing Order 109 of the House of Commons, the Government must provide a comprehensive response within 120 days. 

The Government welcomes the opportunity to respond to this report.  The Government has carefully reviewed and considered the Committee’s recommendations and is pleased to inform the Committee of the progress achieved and the actions still underway with respect to its recommendations. 

Recommendation 1

That Public Safety Canada report to the Public Accounts Committee by 31 December 2009 on progress in strengthening the RCMP’s review and complaints body.

Response

Strengthening the RCMP review and complaints body continues to be a priority of the Government of Canada.  In response to reports by Parliamentary Committees, key stakeholders, Justice O’Connor’s report as well as the Brown Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP, the Government of Canada is developing a proposal to strengthen and modernize the RCMP’s review and complaints body.  The Government has and will continue to consult with key stakeholders, in particular the contracting provinces and territories, to finalize the proposal.

Recommendation 2

That Public Safety Canada report to the Public Accounts Committee by 31 December 2009 on progress in enhancing the national security review framework.

Response

In recent years, the national security landscape has changed, with more departments and agencies working together to address emerging challenges and threats.  The Government is committed to ensuring that Canada’s national security review structure reflects the changing nature of national security investigations, responds to the shifting security and threat environment, and respects the principles of independence and accountability. 

The Government took immediate action to accept and implement the recommendations put forward in the Report of the Events relating to Maher Arar, and this process is largely complete. 

Notwithstanding the work accomplished to date, the Government recognizes the need to continually assess existing policy and practice against the ever-changing environment in which we operate.  External review is an essential component of this process, enhancing the system by fostering an ongoing process of adjustment and refinement over time. 

Strengthening public trust in Canada’s national security architecture, as outlined in Justice O’Connor’s second report, A New Review Mechanism for the RCMP’s National Security Activities, is a priority for the Government of Canada.

The Government of Canada has made its intentions clear with respect to the recommendations put forward by the Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar by accepting and implementing the recommendations put forward in the Report of the Events relating to Maher Arar, and through its commitment to modernizing and strengthening Canada’s national security review framework.  In achieving these objectives, the Government will continue to take into consideration the advice and recommendations of key stakeholders and advisors, including Justice Major’s forthcoming report in the context of the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182.

The Government’s aim is to strengthen the review structures that are already in place to achieve the desired balance between maintaining operational effectiveness and achieving a modernized review process.  Much work has also been accomplished in advancing policy analysis with respect to Canada’s national security review framework, particularly with regard to enhancing the RCMP’s complaints and review process, including review of its national security activities, and providing a mechanism to facilitate inter-agency review.  Progress made in assessing the options for enhanced external review and reporting to Parliament were acknowledged in the 2009 Status Report of the Auditor General of Canada. 

Clearly, this is a significant undertaking, and the Government is working diligently to develop proposals that will provide for effective, efficient and integrated national security review. 

Recommendation 3

That the Department of Justice Canada report to the Public Accounts Committee by 31 December 2009 on the results of its review of the legal challenges that arise in the sharing of information for national security purposes.

Recommendation 4

That the Privy Council Office and Public Safety Canada indicate what increased efforts they will take to examine and provide guidance on the sharing of information among government departments and agencies while balancing privacy concerns with national security concerns.

Response to Recommendations 3 and 4

The Government is making serious efforts to ensure intelligence and information are shared appropriately by security and intelligence agencies while respecting the individual rights of Canadians. 

While it is essential that information be effectively shared between departments and agencies in support of public safety and security, it must be done in a manner that respects Canadian privacy legislation and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  To this effect, the Government has undertaken a review of the legal challenges that arise in the sharing of information for national security purposes.  This review, which is supported by an advisory group comprised of Justice counsel and representatives of key departments and agencies including the Privy Council Office, aims to articulate meaningful principles and guidelines to inform the Government’s approach in this area.  Specifically, the objective of the review is the production of a report that will include:

  1. a review of the current legal and policy framework;
  2. a comparative analysis of the Canadian legal and policy framework with that of international partners (United States, United Kingdom, and the European Union);
  3. identification of obstacles within the current legal and policy framework that might inhibit the sharing of national security information;
  4. development of guiding principles aimed at informing the Government's approach to information sharing domestically and internationally; and
  5. a proposal for consideration by decision makers, on administrative and legislative options to achieve information sharing objectives while respecting the guiding principles.

This review is addressing complex issues that pose challenges not only for Canada but for governments around the globe.  Considerable research and consultation are required in order that the conclusions reached are fully informed.  The report being developed will then be used for discussions regarding guidance on information sharing made by those federal departments and agencies with national security responsibilities.

The work of this review is well advanced, with a report expected to be finalized in late fall of 2009.

In addition to the Justice Canada review, the Government is taking numerous proactive steps to address information sharing challenges.  It is examining the information-sharing issues raised by recent commissions of inquiry and studying policy options to increase accountability in the sharing of information among federal departments and agencies.  For instance, enhanced guidelines have been issued to increase information sharing between the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and to improve interdepartmental cooperation on national security files.

Moreover, the RCMP has made changes to its policies and procedures in order to provide improved direction on the handling and sharing of information.  This includes the creation of a Sensitive Information Handling Unit at RCMP headquarters which is responsible for the receipt, review and dissemination of information received from foreign security intelligence agencies.  The RCMP has also collaborated with Canadian law enforcement agencies to develop a Common Framework for National Security, which has been adopted by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.  In addition, the RCMP has implemented a National Security Criminal Investigations training course that deals with an array of important issues, including the mandates of the RCMP and CSIS information sharing practices, the role and operations of liaison officers, the appropriate use and management of border lookouts, and the wide-ranging importance of human rights issues, social contexts and cultural sensitivity matters.

CSIS has also pursued a number of important reviews to strengthen its information handling practices, including: amending operational policy governing information-sharing and cooperation to restate the need to take the human rights record of a country into account before sending or using information from that country; conducting assessments of the human rights records of the countries and agencies with which it exchanges information; and introducing a new caveat to information it shares with foreign agencies that seeks assurances that any Canadian citizen detained by a foreign government will be treated in accordance with the norms of relevant international conventions.

In September 2006, the RCMP and CSIS revised an existing Memorandum of Understanding to provide greater clarity about, among other things, the principles and mechanisms for sharing information and intelligence between the two agencies, as well as the type of information and intelligence to be shared.

In April 2009, Transport Canada and the RCMP signed a Memorandum of Understanding on information sharing aimed at improving the screening of applicants for security clearance to access restricted areas at Canadian airports.

In November 2008, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) updated its lookout procedures to enhance the accuracy and validity of lookouts by addressing the review and maintenance of all lookouts, regardless of the systems in which they are placed.  Requesting agencies must now include all information pertaining to the lookout in their request to ensure the CBSA has the relevant information to properly input the lookout on their behalf.  Lookouts are subject to regular and unscheduled reviews for accuracy and validity and the interception of a subject with a lookout will trigger a full review of the information contained in the lookout.

The CBSA has also conducted internal consultations with respect to the accuracy and validity of lookouts received from external partners and has conducted external consultations on this subject with the RCMP, CSIS, and Passport Canada.  No instances of inaccuracies in lookouts were reported by partners. 

The CBSA has updated its Information Sharing Policy for the Intelligence Program to enhance its ability to determine the circumstances in which information can be shared, what information can be shared and with whom, the restrictions on disclosure, the proper use of caveats, and the obligation for written documentation when information is shared.

Recommendation 5

That Transport Canada work with other federal organizations to ensure that individuals with a high risk of conducting criminal activity do not receive clearance to work in restricted areas of Canada’s airports, and that Transport Canada report to the Public Accounts Committee by 31 December 2009.

Following the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding and supporting implementation plan on April 8, 2009, both agencies proceeded to initiate the requirements of the arrangement.  Transport Canada is providing funding of up to $1.2 million in fiscal year 2009-10 and $2.0 million in fiscal year 2010-11 to the RCMP.  These funds are being used to hire staff and equipment to begin conducting enhanced verifications of applicants.

Both agencies meet regularly to develop and fine-tune procedures for sharing data and resulting intelligence. 

Transport Canada has chaired, with the participation of the RCMP, a working group that has established and defined criteria and strengthened guidelines against which applicants for a clearance are now being assessed.  Transport Canada has developed Terms of Reference for an Advisory Body that reviews contentious files.  The strengthened Advisory Body has procedures for conducting deliberations and works with subject matter experts to review files and provide the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities with more substantive recommendations to refuse, grant or cancel a Transportation Security Clearance.  

Another working group chaired by Transport Canada is looking at identifying key positions at airports for which individuals will require priority processing when undergoing a complete law enforcement records check.  This group will also study the feasibility of creating different levels of background checks for categories of positions, dependent on the risk entailed with the type of position. 


Recommendation 6

That Public Safety Canada report to the Public Accounts Committee by 31 December 2009 on progress in completing the government-wide communications system at the secret level.

Response

Since the successful completion of the pilot Secret Communications Interoperability Project in August 31 2008, Public Safety Canada has internally reallocated funding to maintain the system and pay for a core team to continue the work necessary so that the system can be ready for deployment.

As funding associated with the development and implementation of the pilot project ended in 2008-09, Public Safety Canada is developing a proposal to obtain long-term funding.