Thank you very much for inviting me to appear before you today.
Bill C-59 proposes complex and major updates to national security law. It would address several decisions of the Federal Court of Canada, and widespread concerns expressed about Bill C-51 in 2015.
The Canadian Bar Association generally supports the goals and structure of Bill C-59 as a positive change, modernizing the legal framework for Canada’s national security infrastructure and increasing transparency, oversight and review, features that have previously been lacking. Our comments and analysis of the proposals in Bill C-59 are offered in hopes of further improving the bill.
Our written submissions provide a number of specific recommendations and I would refer you to those for the more technical amendments we propose. I will use my time today to focus on two or three areas of broader concern.
First of all, we support the creation of the national security and intelligence review agency, the NSIRA. I just have a couple of comments with respect to it but in particular with respect to the mandate. While we commend the decision to avoid language that would unnecessarily restrict the agency's mandate, an overly broad mandate could hinder the agency's ability to focus and assess its performance against its mandate.
In the way that it's drafted now, the NSIRA has responsibility for broad review of any activity of “a department that relates to national security or intelligence”. “Intelligence” is a very broad term. It could include things that are done by anything from the Canada Revenue Agency to Fisheries and Oceans, police departments, etc.
“National security” is also problematic given the multiple definitions that we see in different pieces of legislation. In particular, we remain concerned about the SCISA, the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, or with the amendments that we have today. The breadth of the definition of an “activity that undermines the security of Canada” in section 2 is still very broad and notably it's different from the definition in the CSIS Act of “threats to the security of Canada”. Having two definitions is not helpful. It's confusing and it doesn't provide a clear mandate for national security agencies and in particular for an oversight or review agency.
I would also note in passing that the amendment to the exception in section 2(2) of the SCISA is troubling as it actually substantially reduces the protection under the current version. Several legitimate political activities might be seen on their face as undermining the sovereignty or territorial integrity of Canada.
In the past, we've recommended that there be one coherent, clear definition of “national security” and we continue to be of that view. It's also unclear whether certain other activities fall under the definition of “national security” at all. For example, the Secure Air Travel Act, SATA, does not refer to national security and it's unclear whether the review of SATA activities would fall under the NSIRA or not. In other words, is this national security legislation? Does it fall under NSIRA?
The coordination of the work of the NSIRA with other review agencies is obviously key although we would note that there remain significant gaps in the review framework. The problem is particularly stark with the Canada Border Services Agency, and we've expressed concerns about this lack of independent review of the CBSA in several past submissions.
CBSA remains one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the country and has no independent oversight or review at all. This is not a role that NSIRA should take on although it does highlight the problem of having a vague definition of “national security” because arguably everything that Canada Border Services Agency does could fall into a broad understanding of national security in a vague sense.
Everyday complaints about problems at the border should not be burdening NSIRA and its resources. A specialized review agency is required.
We also have concerns, in particular, with respect to NSIRA's access to information, and in particular that NSIRA would have access to any information other than a cabinet confidence that it deems necessary to conduct its work. This would extend explicitly to information subject to solicitor-client privilege, professional secrecy of advocates and notaries, or litigation privilege, creating an open-ended mechanism to review legal advice given to the government. This is of significant concern to the CBA.
The role of solicitor-client privilege is fundamental to the functioning of our justice system and this is as true for government actors as it is for private actors. It has been argued that privileged information must be made available because the practices of security agencies often depend on the legal advice they receive.
However, without assurances of privilege, legal advice will be sought less often, based on less candid disclosure by client agencies, or worse, sought and received but not documented.
The other problem with respect to the disclosure of solicitor-client privileged information is how the NSIRA then deals with it in its reports. It's not helpful for the NSIRA to have solicitor-client privileged information. What they need is information about how this is actually deployed in the agency, not the advice that was given behind those decisions.
Concerning the intelligence commissioner, the CBA supports the creation of an independent specialized office for the oversight and authorization of activities by the CSE and CSIS. We have generally called for judicial oversight, but we recognize the advantages of a dedicated commissioner with staff and resources to allow effective ongoing oversight.
The nature of the review mandated by sections 14 to 21 of the proposed intelligence commissioner act does create some concerns for us because there's a system of nested reasonableness findings. Instead of the normal process in front of a judge for a warrant where a judge would find whether there are reasonable grounds to issue a warrant, what the legislation currently foresees is that the minister would make a finding on reasonable grounds, and then the intelligence commissioner would review that on a reasonableness standard.
This creates two problems from our perspective. First, it's unclear how much deference that implies. There's an extensive debate in the courts right now around the application of the reasonableness standard at all and how that plays out in terms of deference.
There's no need to bring that confusion into this area, and there is not that confusion around the reasonable grounds standard, so there's no reason for this nested reasonableness finding other than creating a level of confusion as to how much oversight is actually being provided, in particular because it's going to be provided behind closed doors. It's important for Canadians to understand what the intelligence commissioner is doing and that it be clear.
With respect to the CSE, the CBA generally supports the more detailed mandate of the CSE, and we support the structure as it's being proposed. There are several elements of the proposed mandates that are in tension with one another, in particular, the offence and defence in cyber-operations.
We would recommend that there be an explicit vulnerabilities equities process as part of the mandate of the CSE, so that the balancing can happen in a transparent way. The U.S. has a process in place that might work as a model, or at least give ideas with respect to that.
With respect to CSIS, we continue to have concerns around the disruption powers. In particular, giving kinetic powers to CSIS comes away from the mandate of creating CSIS in the first place, after the McDonald Commission.
I'll refer you to our written submissions with respect to our concerns around section 12.1(3.2). We continue to have concerns similar to those we've had in the past with respect to these warrants limiting charter rights in that context.
Finally, I would note with respect to the Criminal Code provision of counselling of terrorism offence, in my view, following the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court in Hamilton, the counselling offences in the Criminal Code already cover everything this offence covers. There is no need to further complicate the Criminal Code. It's already too complex. It ought to be simplified, and the counselling offence covers everything you're hoping to cover here.
Thank you very much for your time, and I apologize if I went a little bit over.