Canada’s Spy Agency Likely Committed Illegal Acts To Investigate Foreign Fighters, Top Court Rules

posted on July 21, 2020 | in Category CSIS | PermaLink

by Justin Ling
Source: Vice.com
URL: [link]
Date: July 16, 2020

The scathing decision found “institutional failings” at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service employed activities that were likely illegal in order to obtain intelligence and the Department of Justice failed to disclose that to the court, a Federal Court has found.

In a scathing ruling, the court found CSIS, Canada’s main spy agency, had “breached the duty of candour” it owed to the judiciary to be open and honest with the court. It further found “institutional failings” around how CSIS assesses the legal risk of its programs.

“We take these findings very seriously,” reads a statement from Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and Justice Minister David Lametti.

A source with knowledge of the ruling confirmed to VICE News that the probably-illegal activities had to do with CSIS’ effort to track foreign fighters.

While the ruling is heavily redacted, it notes that one of the Service’s investigations involved paying “an individual known to be facilitating or carrying out terrorism an amount totalling less than $25,000 over a few years.” The court looked at seven instances where CSIS provided or tried to provide money or goods, and found four cases where the Service broke the law. (In some cases, payments were interrupted.)

The decision notes that the payments were made in order to “collect information on the threat related activities of individuals in hostile and difficult locations”

CSIS has, for years, been recruiting and paying sources in order to gain intelligence on Canadians who left home to fight for extremist and terrorism groups abroad. There has long been fears that those fighters, particularly the one who left in recent years to join the Islamic State, could return to Canada.

“We often rely on the assistance of human sources who have access to individuals or organizations that pose a threat to our country, and who may put themselves at great risk to protect Canada and Canadian interests,” reads a statement from CSIS Director David Vigneault concerning the decision. “At times, this requires us to pay these sources for information or offer other logistical support, such as providing a cell phone to help them carry out their work.”

The director contended that those potentially law-breaking activities, which are classified, “are representative of bread and butter practices conducted by our allies around the world.”

Whether or not they are normal or necessary, CSIS failed to tell the court the full details of these operations and the potentially illegal activities.

“Despite this widespread knowledge and the potential relevance the issue of illegality had in the context of warrant applications, the matter was never brought to this Court’s attention,” the court wrote. “This is inexcusable.”

The agency relied on information gleaned through potentially-illegal means to obtain at least two warrants from the court. According to a media lines prepared by the government, CSIS also kept then-public safety minister Ralph Goodale in the dark about the extent of the activities until early 2019.

According to a media lines prepared by the government, CSIS also kept then-public safety minister Ralph Goodale in the dark about the extent of the activities until early 2019.

“Prior to that date, Minister Goodale, was notified of the operations in question as constituting high legal risk, but not that they were likely unlawful,” the media lines read. Goodale, at that point, issued a new directive requiring CSIS to report its activities to his office more fully.

It does not seem that any charges will be filed in relation to any potentially illegal activity.

A 2015 incident may illustrate the kind of activities that got CSIS in trouble.

That year, Turkish news identified Mohammed al-Rashed as the man seen in security footage shepherding the three British girls through a Turkish border town. Multiple outlets reported that al-Rashed was working for Canadian intelligence.

A source told TV station A Haber at the time that al-Rashad communicated intelligence about his smuggling operation to a source at the Canadian embassy in Ankara. The Istanbul-based Star reported that al-Rashad was arrested and confessed his partnership with Canada while being interrogated by Turkish security services.

The media reports said he likely smuggled 20 individuals from Turkey to Syria, many to serve as “brides” in the fledgling caliphate.

In a statement to the Globe & Mail, then-public safety minister Stephen Blaney’s office denied the Syrian man was a CSIS employee, but remained coy about whether he was working with the service.

If CSIS had, in fact, paid al-Rashad in relation to his smuggling operations, that may well have broken Canadian law.

For years, CSIS believed it had relatively free reign to break the law when necessary. Legal advice prepared for the service concluded that “Crown immunity” covered its employees and sources, meaning they are protected from criminal prosecution while carrying on business of the Canadian government.

CSIS has gotten in trouble with that assumption before.

In 2016, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which was then the primary watchdog for CSIS, investigated how the service was handling the threat posed by the risk of foreign fighters returning to Canada. The review committee specifically looked at how CSIS managed its human sources outside Canada and found issues.

While the report itself remains vague, as the operations were classified, it did pointedly recommend that CSIS “ensure its employees fully understand the extent to which certain activities present legal risks” and work to “seek legal clarification on whether CSIS employees and CSIS human sources are afforded protection under...Crown immunity.”

CSIS accepted the recommendation, and said it intended to clarify its legal protections, tacitly acknowledging that its legal advice around “Crown immunity” might be wrong.

A year later, the Trudeau government introduced legislation that did that work for them—Bill C-59 specifically removed CSIS’ Crown immunity protections. The bill proposed a new test that would dictate when and how CSIS would be allowed to break the law to collect intelligence, while setting clear red lines of what it could never do: Including murder, torture, kidnapping, sexual assault, and obstruction of justice.

That bill was introduced in 2017, but didn’t actually pass through Parliament until the summer of 2019.

In that two-year gap, however, legal advice prepared by the Department of Justice for CSIS came to the conclusion that they did not, in fact, enjoy Crown immunity as they once thought. In January, 2017, the CSIS director paused all law-breaking operations. Two months later, in March, the Service began approving those operations all over again, even though it did not have legal advice backing up its actions, where “the value of the operation justified the risk,” as the court summarized it.

“It appears the Service was willing to let sleeping dogs lie,” the court wrote.

In January, 2019, the legal advice flipped again, and “CSIS immediately suspended all such activities,” reads an internal Q&A sheet prepared by the Department of Justice.

“In hindsight, we acknowledge that our legal advice should have been clearer and more consistent,” the department admitted.

When C-59 became law in June 2019, CSIS again enjoyed the ability to break laws when necessary.

This ruling from the Federal Court is the second such decision in recent years. In 2017, the Federal Court blasted a secret CSIS’ metadata collection program, which it largely hid from the court and cabinet.

The court has recommended a wide-ranging external review of CSIS, including how it obtains legal advice from the Department of Justice and how it vets the legal risk of its intelligence operations.

While the court didn’t require any such review, it did require that the service report back within two months with its plans on how to address the decision—that deadline ended today.

Neither the service nor Department of Justice made it clear whether they would go forward with the review as proposed by the court.

The government did say that former Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie is being retained to look over the Department of Justice’s processes while the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency—the beefed-up watchdog which replaces CSIS’ review committee—is being asked to conduct a review of CSIS’ policies. The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, which has a mandate to review classified information, may also conduct a study.

The Department of Justice is appealing part of the ruling, to do with solicitor-client privilege. “Appealing this single legal question in no way diminishes our commitment to addressing the full range of the Court’s recommendation,” the two ministers said.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter.

CSIS and the RCMP accused of neglecting far-right threat

posted on February 08, 2018 | in Category CSIS | PermaLink

by Bruce Livesey Source: National Observer URL: [link] Date: October 12, 2017 Csis This is the fourth chapter in a four-part series investigating apparent institutional biases within the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the RCMP.

At around 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 29, at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec on the outskirts of Quebec City, the mosque’s parking lot was filling up for evening prayers. The centre is housed in a modern glass and steel office building, located on the corner of a busy thoroughfare. At 7:50, a commotion was heard outside one of the entrances to the prayer room. There, two distant cousins, Mamadou Tanou Barry and Ibrahima Barry, were the first to be shot by a gunman, who then walked inside the room and continued his killing spree. It was all over in a few minutes - with six men dead and 19 wounded. The suspect arrested was 27-year-old Université Laval student Alexandre Bissonnette, who is alleged to have been influenced by far-right and perhaps alt-right ideas. In the minds of some, this deadly attack raised a question: while CSIS and the RCMP have spent years and vast sums spying on (and often harassing) Muslims, environmentalists, Indigenous and social justice activists, have they been overlooking a far more dangerous threat from the extreme right? After all, prior to the attack, Bissonnette was not even on the police’s radar. READ MORE...

CSIS and RCMP accused of entrapping terrorism suspects

posted on February 08, 2018 | in Category CSIS | PermaLink

by Bruce Livesey Source: National Observer URL: [link] Date: October 10, 2017 Csis This is part three of a four-part series investigating institutional biases at the RCMP and CSIS in regards to intelligence-gathering.

On July 2, 2013, the RCMP held a press conference in Surrey, B.C. Standing against a bright-blue backdrop, grim-looking senior RCMP officers, dressed in full regalia, displayed photos of pressure cookers said to have contained explosives. They then solemnly announced the arrest of two people, which had occurred the previous day, for “terrorism-related activities.” John Nuttall, 38, and his common-law wife, Amanda Korody, 29, had placed what they thought were three bombs on the grounds of the B.C. legislature in Victoria, designed to kill dozens of people. The case, which the RCMP called “Project Souvenir,” made for sensational headlines and the couple was soon labelled the “Canada Day bombers.” In 2015, Nuttall and Korody, who live in Surrey, B.C., were convicted by a jury and facing stiff sentences. But immediately after the verdict, the couple's lawyers applied for a stay of proceedings over how the RCMP had conducted their sting operation. Before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and over weeks of hearings that stretched from the summer of 2015 until the summer of last year, the Mounties' methods of investigating Nuttall and Korody were placed under a microscope in the main courthouse in Vancouver. Finally, when the court made its ruling a year ago, it was a stunner: the judge accused the RCMP of entrapment – of basically fabricating most of the terrorist plot. READ MORE...

Torture and interrogation the CSIS and RCMP way

posted on February 08, 2018 | in Category CSIS | PermaLink

by Bruce Livesey Source: National Observer URL: [link] Date: September 20, 2017 Csis This is the second chapter in a four-part series investigating apparent institutional biases within the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the RCMP.

On May 24, 2016, Abderrahmane Ghanem and his parents flew to Algiers, the capital of Algeria, from the Arabian Peninsula country of Oman. After landing and clearing customs, they were met at the airport’s exit by three men in civilian clothes who asked to speak to Ghanem. Privately and briefly. The former Calgary resident, a handsome 29-year-old Canadian with close-cropped dark hair, was led away. He did not return. Ghanem was now in the hands of the DSS, Algeria’s state security agency – notorious for its use of torture and secret detention. He was about to spend more than a year in an Algerian prison, where he says he was tortured. Why and how did Ghanem end up incarcerated in Algeria? READ MORE...

Is bigotry blinding CSIS and the RCMP - to disastrous effect?

posted on February 08, 2018 | in Category CSIS | PermaLink

by Bruce Livesey Source: National Observer URL: [link] Date: September 14, 2017 Csis This is the first chapter in a four-part series investigating apparent institutional biases within the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the RCMP.

“Rumours were spread, suggesting Emran (a CSIS analyst, who is Muslim) was a mole in the organization and not to be trusted. The comments, insults and innuendo were intentionally hurtful and designed to isolate and undermine Emran among his colleagues. This was not mere misguided office banter, but rather hatred based upon religious, ethnic, national and racial identity.” – from the lawsuit of five CSIS staffers against their employer, filed on July 13, 2017. As John Phillips bustles into the beige-coloured boardroom clutching a thick wad of papers under his arm, he apologizes for the half-assembled state of his law firm’s new offices. Phillips is a burly 56-year-old litigator who – with his bushy, snow-white beard, suspenders and steel-rimmed eyeglasses – bears a certain resemblance to Saint Nicolas. He also wears the pleased-as-punch expression of someone who’s been taking victory laps of late. As he plunks the documents down on the boardroom table, Phillips has good reason to be in high spirits: he’s one of Omar Khadr’s lawyers who negotiated the reported $10.5-million settlement over CSIS and the federal government’s Charter of Rights-abusing actions towards the youth, who spent 10 years in Guantánamo Bay where he was frequently and brutally tortured. This past winter, Phillips also won a $141,000-judgment against the government and two senior RCMP officers over the harassment of Mountie Peter Merrifield (the Department of Justice even agreed to fork over more than $800,000 to cover Merrifield’s legal bills). READ MORE..

'My life was ripped apart': Two Calgary Muslim men say CSIS wrongfully targeted them

posted on November 28, 2017 | in Category CSIS | PermaLink

by Nazim Baksh and Devin Heroux Source: CBC News URL: [link] Date: November 22, 2017 Csis [PHOTO: Abderrahmane Ghanem says he was detained and tortured in an Algerian prison after Canadian intelligence agencies shared information about him. Ghanem and Yacine Meziane say they've been wrongly targeted and their lives have been disrupted.]

Yacine Meziane and Abderrahmane Ghanem say they want their names cleared

Two Muslim men from Calgary say they were willing to assist Canada's security agents with terror-related inquiries until CSIS started hounding them and shared their personal information with foreign states. Speaking exclusively to CBC News, Yacine Meziane and Abderrahmane Ghanem say CSIS and the RCMP wrongfully lumped them in with a cluster of Calgary jihadis who left to fight with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The two men say they were subjected to surveillance that quickly turned into harassment and eventually escalated into a full-scale disruption of their lives at home and abroad. "My life was ripped apart," Meziane said. Neither CSIS nor the RCMP would comment about individual cases. However, in a lengthy response to CBC News, CSIS said that "care is taken to ensure an appropriate balance between the degree of intrusiveness of an investigation and the rights and freedoms of those being investigated." That's not how Ghanem or Meziane see it. They're demanding that Canadian intelligence agencies help clear their names and allow them to lead normal lives. CBC News has heard from half a dozen other Calgary Muslim men who say they've been similarly hounded by CSIS but are too afraid to speak openly for fear of backlash from security agencies.

[ Read the rest ... ]

CSIS relied on no-torture 'assurances' from foreign agencies, memo reveals

posted on July 06, 2015 | in Category CSIS | PermaLink

by Jim Bronskill (CP) Source: The Canadian Press & CBC News URL: [link] Date: Jul 03, 2015 Csis

CSIS bound by federal policy on sharing information with foreign groups

Newly released memos show Canada's spy agency revealed its interest in people to foreign partners in two cases after receiving assurances the individuals would not be tortured — a practice human rights advocates say shirks the law and puts vulnerable detainees at risk. In one case, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service got the green light from a high-level internal committee to interview a Canadian detained abroad as long as captors gave "proper assurances" the person would not be abused, the CSIS documents say. In another case, the spy service received the go-ahead to send information to an allied agency about a terrorist target of mutual interest if such "assurances" were provided, the internal CSIS memos reveal. The two cases were among 10 instances in which the CSIS information sharing evaluation committee applied a ministerial directive on the use and sharing of information that may have been tainted by torture or could give rise to someone being brutalized in an overseas prison cell. The Canadian Press used the Access to Information Act to obtain CSIS notes outlining the 10 cases — with names and other identifying details stripped out — as well as a spring 2014 memo to spy service director Michel Coulombe. The two cases in which CSIS sought promises that individuals would not be abused raise "a red flag," said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, who called the practice an end-run around international legal obligations. Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, says it is not reliable for CSIS to rely on assurances from foreign parties that individuals of interest will not be tortured. "That's always problematic from a human-rights perspective," he said in an interview. "It's not reliable. And we have been deeply concerned about the ways in which governments around the world have been increasingly relying on assurances." Many western governments have resorted to the use of "diplomatic assurances" to circumvent their obligations under international law, said Ottawa human-rights lawyer Paul Champ. Not adequate protection

Courts and United Nations bodies have held — and, more tragically, experience has confirmed — that assurances are not adequate protection against torture and should not be used as an excuse for practices that might contribute to abuse, he said. "Canada's own experience in Afghanistan amply demonstrated that repeated assurances from the Afghan government did not stop Canadian-transferred detainees from being tortured." CSIS spokeswoman Tahera Mufti said the agency was "very cognizant" of its legal and ethical obligations in sharing information. "We are very careful to ensure that everything we do to keep Canadians safe is consistent not just with Canadian law but Canadian values." The federal policy on foreign information-sharing, ushered in by the Conservative government, has been roundly criticized by human-rights advocates and opposition politicians who say it effectively condones torture, contrary to international law and Canada's UN commitments. A four-page 2010 framework document, previously released under the access law, says when there is a "substantial risk" that sending information to, or soliciting information from, a foreign agency would result in torture — and it is unclear whether the risk can be managed through assurances or other means — the matter should be referred to the responsible deputy minister or agency head. In deciding what to do, the agency head will consider factors including the threat to Canada's national security and the nature and imminence of the threat; the status of Canada's relationship with — and the human rights record of — the foreign agency; and the rationale for believing that sharing the information would lead to torture. In one of the 10 CSIS cases, just such a scenario emerged: a two-fold CSIS request to check with foreign agencies about a Canadian target and to interview a foreign national detained abroad with knowledge of the target was referred to the CSIS director for a final decision when the committee ruled the request could well lead to someone being tortured. In the end, there was no need for the CSIS director to make the decision, as the information was acquired through other means with no perceived risk of mistreatment. CSIS, the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency, National Defence and the Communications Security Establishment, Canada's electronic spy agency, are bound by the federal policy on sharing information with foreign agencies. The newly released notes discuss formal risk assessments carried out by the Mounties in 2013-14 that led to rejection of all five requests from police investigators to send or receive information. In one RCMP case, a request to interview a Canadian held in a foreign prison was denied due to the assessment that detainees face a risk of torture and other degrading abuse in order to extract confessions. © The Canadian Press, 2015 Copyright © CBC 2015

Canada’s spy service fights court ruling it says puts informants in danger

posted on July 09, 2012 | in Category CSIS | PermaLink

by Andrew Duffy Source: The Ottawa Citizen URL: [link] Date: July 2, 2012 Csis Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has asked the Supreme Court to overturn a ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal that struck down the right of CSIS to always shield the names of its sources.

Canada’s spy agency says its network of informants has been “imperilled” by a Federal Court of Appeal decision that struck down its right to always shield the names of its sources. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has asked the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling. “As with police informers, the identity of informers who provide information to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) must be protected or their lives and the lives of their families could be at risk,” federal lawyer David Tyndale argues in documents filed in support of the government’s leave to appeal. “Without a guarantee of confidentiality, individuals would be reluctant to come forward and assist CSIS, and sources would dry up.” The appeal court ruling, he says, damages Canada’s national security, impairs its ability to deport foreign-born terror suspects, and creates two classes of informants: those who work for the police and those who work for CSIS. “These are issues of the utmost public importance,” Tyndale contends. In April, the Federal Court of Appeal struck down a blanket legal protection — it’s known as a “class privilege” — that had been extended to CSIS informants. Confidential police sources already enjoy a near-absolute right to have their names kept out of court proceedings. (The lone exception involves a crime in which a defendant’s innocence can only be established by unmasking the informant.) The appeal court, however, said it was unnecessary for CSIS informants to be offered the same automatic protection since other legal safeguards are available to them. The issue first arose in 2008 during Mohamed Harkat’s security certificate hearing.

[ Read the rest ... ]

CSIS breaches policy, makes errors, watchdog says

posted on May 19, 2012 | in Category CSIS | PermaLink

by The Canadian Press
Source: CTV News
URL: [link]
Date: May. 18, 2012


OTTAWA — Canada's spy service continues to flout policy and make a serious number of reporting errors, says a federal watchdog whose office was recently abolished.

In her final report as inspector general of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Eva Plunkett says CSIS's reputation and effectiveness may suffer if the problems aren't addressed.

The "re-occurring and high rate of non-compliance with policy and the ever-increasing rate of errors in reporting identified in what is a relatively small review sample of CSIS activities is a concern to me and should be a serious concern of the Service," Plunkett says in the annual report card.

"Errors in intelligence reporting, as I have repeatedly stated over my tenure, are a serious matter and have the potential for far-reaching consequences."

The Canadian Press obtained a declassified version of Plunkett's top secret November 2011 evaluation Friday under the Access to Information Act.

Plunkett retired last December and the Conservative government recently scrapped her office, saying it would save money and eliminate duplication.

As inspector general, she served as the public safety minister's eyes and ears on the intelligence service for eight years. She had a staff of eight and a budget of about $1 million.

In her report, Plunkett says her office performs the unique role of identifying issues and recommending corrective actions before they become public controversies that undermine trust.

"This is not work done elsewhere in government on your behalf," says the report.

"At this time, it is the only independent, impartial resource available to the minister to support his responsibility and accountability for an organization which works in secret but has been given highly intrusive powers."

[ Read the rest ... ]

Human-rights group demands recall of federal torture directive to CSIS

posted on March 08, 2012 | in Category CSIS | PermaLink

by Jim Bronskill (CP) Source: The Winnipeg Free Press URL: [link] Date: March 6, 2012 Csis OTTAWA - A human-rights group wants the federal government to withdraw a directive permitting Canada's spy agency to share information even when there's a real risk it will lead to torture. In a letter to the public safety minister and the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Amnesty International Canada says the policy "is in direct contravention" of Canada's international obligations to prevent brutalization of prisoners. The government directive outlines instructions for deciding whether to share information when there is a "substantial risk" that doing so might result in someone in custody being abused. It also entrenches an earlier policy dictating that protection of life and property be the key considerations when deciding on the use of information that may have been extracted through torture. A copy of the July 2011 document was recently released under the Access to Information Act. Though unclassified, it had not been made public previously. Inappropriate sharing of information by Canadian authorities contributed to the torture of Arab-Canadians in Syria in the period following 9-11, points out the letter signed by Amnesty Canada's secretary general, Alex Neve. A resulting federal inquiry into the case of Ottawa engineer Maher Arar recommended that information never be provided to a foreign country where there is a credible risk that it will cause or contribute to the use of torture. The fact the new federal policy on information sharing may be limited to exceptional circumstances involving public safety concerns "is no justification as international law does not allow or excuse the use of torture in any circumstances," says the letter. "Governments are of course obligated to take action to respond to terrorist and other threats to public safety. But they must do so in ways that do not cause, contribute to or condone torture." Opposition MPs have roundly denounced the directive, saying there can be no compromise on torture. The provisions in the directive are "not acceptable to most Canadians," said NDP public safety critic Jasbir Sandhu. "We don't use information from torture," Sandhu said Tuesday in an interview. "I can tell you, Canadians didn't vote for this sort of hidden agenda." The federal government says that although it stands by the directive, it does not condone torture and strongly opposes the mistreatment of any individual. © 2012 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.

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