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Trudeau taps outgoing NDP MP to chair new national security oversight body
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New watchdog will have full access to virtually all information held by the federal government
July 25, 2019
John Paul Tasker

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday that outgoing NDP MP Murray Rankin will serve as chair of a new National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, a body that will be keep tabs on the country's intelligence services, including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE).

The agency -- which will complement another, similar entity composed entirely of MPs and senators -- will have the authority to review any activity carried out by CSIS, the national intelligence agency, and CSE, which collects foreign signals intelligence, and any other national security or intelligence-related work performed by federal departments and agencies.

"The members of the new National Security and Intelligence Review Agency will play an important role protecting Canadians and their rights and freedoms, while keeping our country's national security and intelligence agencies accountable to the citizens they protect," Trudeau said in a statement Wednesday. "We have modernized our security and intelligence agencies to ensure we continue to keep our country and all Canadians safe and secure."

Rankin was first elected as MP for Victoria in 2012 and, until recently, served as his party's justice critic. He was the NDP's representative on the justice committee during its probe of the SNC-Lavalin affair and former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould's allegations of inappropriate pressure by the Prime Minister's Office.

Prior to serving in Parliament, Rankin was a law professor at the University of Victoria, where he taught administrative and environmental law. In his past legal career, he also served as legal counsel to the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) -- the agency this new watchdog will replace. As an MP, he was a member of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.

In addition to Rankin, Trudeau also has appointed University of Ottawa professor Craig Forcese to the agency. Forcese is a frequent media commentator who was critical of the former Conservative government's anti-terrorism legislation, Bill C-51, which he said included "extreme" measures. (Rankin was also a critic of the Tory changes.)

"His appointment is apt after his distinguished career in the law and as a member of Parliament," NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement.

"Canada's NDP caucus has the utmost confidence in Murray Rankin, and we are pleased that an aspect of our nation's security will be in his capable hands. We know he will carry the principles we share -- putting the well being of everyday Canadians first -- with him into his new role."

A graduate of McGill, Carleton, the University of Ottawa and Yale, Forcese teaches public international law, national security law, administrative law and constitutional law. Forcese is also a senior research affiliate at the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society.

In a June 2017 Maclean's piece he wrote on Bill C-59, the legislation that created the new review agency, Forcese praised the Liberal government's push for more accountability for agencies that operate in almost total secrecy.

"The government is finally redressing the imbalance between security service powers and those of the review bodies that are supposed to hold them to account," he said.

"Expert review will be liberated from its silos as the new review agency has a whole-of-government mandate. A new accountability body will now 'follow the thread' in reviewing security operations involving multiple agencies," he said, saying the improved accountability will "go a long way to restoring confidence and credibility."

Five members of the existing SIRC also have been re-appointed to the new body: Pierre Blais, L. Yves Fortier, Ian Holloway and Marie-Lucie Morin.

The new watchdog body will have full access to all information held by the federal government, including classified and sensitive information, with the exception of information that is subject to the confidence of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada (cabinet documents).

To prevent violations of civil rights and other forms of abuse, the watchdog has been tasked with ensuring these agencies are complying with the law and that their actions are "reasonable and necessary."

To that end, the body will have "full and independent authority" to determine which activities to review and it can field complaints from the public.

The agency will present annual reports to the prime minister on its activities, which will also be tabled in the House of Commons and the Senate.