Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says he’s open to discussing changes to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s legal authority after the spy agency’s chief signalled during the Emergencies Act inquiry that his organization needs “critical” reform.
CSIS’s key mandate is to investigate activities suspected of constituting threats to the security of the country, and to report to the Government of Canada. But the definition in law of such threats under the Emergencies Act turned out to be a key point of contention during the inquiry.
During the Public Order Emergency Commission inquiry, CSIS director David Vigneault and deputy director of operations Michelle Tessier sat for an in-camera interview with lawyers representing the inquiry. In the course of that exchange, they were asked about potential reforms of the intelligence service.
According to a summary of that conversation, Vigneault “explained that one critical area for reform was modernization of the definition of a threat to the security of Canada.”
Under CSIS’s enabling law, such threats are defined as espionage or sabotage, foreign influence activities detrimental to Canada’s interest, serious violence against persons or property “for the purpose of achieving a political, religious or ideological objective” in Canada or a foreign state, and activities intended to overthrow a government by violence.
Tessier told the commission that definition is outdated.
“In today’s environment, we really need to be looking at the definition of threats to the security of Canada. It’s more threats to Canada’s national interests,” says the summary of that joint interview.
The summary says Tessier called for a change to the definition of a threat to national security “to match the expanding expectations from the government for more information from the intelligence service, for example relating to economic security, research security and pandemic and health intelligence, because the definition in terms of threat currently can be quite narrow.”
In an interview with CBC News, Mendicino said the federal government continues to assess CSIS’s “authorities” to determine whether it needs additional tools to respond to evolving threats.
“That is something that I think we’re all going to continue to reflect on and be laser-like focused on — understanding how ideological or politically extreme ideology can motivate individuals to take up the cause and become potentially violent,” he said.
“How that then relates to revisiting certain laws and statutory authorities is going to be the subject of an ongoing conversation.”
Mandate should be ‘narrow, precise and clear’: CCLA
Wesley Wark, a senior fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said that conversation is “absolutely necessary.”
“I just don’t think we can live with a 1984 model for this,” he said, referring to the year the CSIS Act was written.
“The Cold War has gone, we’re in a very different geopolitical environment. I think the public discussion around threats posed by intelligence agencies has probably matured and broadened a bit to a greater understanding.”
Wark pointed to the security concerns that emerged during the pandemic and rising fears about economic security — ones that lawmakers in the 1980s couldn’t have predicted.
“CSIS is increasingly being asked to play a major role in providing security advice to the private sector and academia about potential threats to research, potential threats to the control of data and intellectual property — all key economic security issues, again. And there’s nothing in the current CSIS Act that actually allows them to do that,” he said.
But Brenda McPhail, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s privacy, technology and surveillance program, said she sees any expansion of the legal definition of a “threat to national security” as a power grab.
“If everything is national security, then nothing is off the table,” she said.
“Our national security bodies, reasonably, have extraordinary powers, to do the difficult and important job that they do. For a body with extraordinary powers, it’s important that their mandate be narrow, precise and clear.”
The question of whether section two of the CSIS Act — which defines threats to national security — is broad enough to capture modern threats was a major source of debate during the public hearings phase of the Emergencies Act inquiry.
The inquiry is looking at whether the federal government was justified in invoking emergency powers to combat protests against COVID-19 measures that gridlocked Ottawa for nearly a month.
In an interview with Public Order Emergency Commission lawyers last fall, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested CSIS faced challenges during the convoy protests.
“He noted that CSIS does not necessarily have the right tools, mandate or even mindset to respond to the threat Canada faced at that moment,” says a summary of that interview, released as part of the commission inquiry.
Policy in a time of panic
McPhail said security agencies have in the past used public events to acquire new powers.
“Our national security landscape changed immensely after 9/11 and many of the actions that were put in place at that time were things that security agencies had been advocating to have the power to do for some time. And no one thought it was necessary until there was a really heart-wrenching crisis on North American soil,” she said.
“Times of fear, when we’ve just been through a crisis that has been difficult, are usually not good times to make really significant policy changes.”
Dennis Molinaro, a former security analyst turned professor at Ontario Tech University, sees it differently.
He argues CSIS needs a clearer mandate to hone its investigative powers.
“[You can] leave it up to them to be creative in terms of how they can investigate something, and that has the potential to either fall into the category of risk aversion — because nobody wants to overstep — or overstepping, and we get into abuses,” said Molinaro, whose research focuses on counter-intelligence and foreign interference.
“You don’t want to have to chase down rabbit holes to … make something fit when it doesn’t really fit the mandate, even though you believe it should be something that’s investigated. So more often than not, you’re going to have, unfortunately … things are not going to get looked at.”
Wark said he doesn’t think serious talk of modernizing the act will happen until after Paul Rouleau, head of the Public Order Emergency Commission, tables his final report in February. Much would depend on whether the Liberal minority government can secure NDP support for any legislative changes, he added.
“I think there’s a long march towards any change,” he said.
Molinaro said recent high-profile stories in the media about intelligence and foreign interference — including claims that China meddled in the last federal election — have sparked Canadians’ interest in national security issues in a way he hasn’t seen before.
“I think I am a little bit more optimistic now than I have been in the past. Because I think a lot of Canadians are seeing why foreign policy is important,” he said.
“And they’re seeing how foreign policy relates to domestic policy, especially security policy.”
McPhail said she doesn’t think Canadians “are going to roll over and play dead” in response to any push to change CSIS’s mandate.
“What we’re really talking about is changing the degree to which our national security spy agency can intervene or interfere in the lives of Canadians,” she said. “And that’s not the kind of decision that should be taken lightly.”
Mendicino said he hopes Rouleau’s final recommendations touch on CSIS’s concerns.
“He believes he’s got the evidence that he needs to make some conclusions about that,” said the minister.
Canada politics: NDP to talk health care with Trudeau – CTV News
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that he would sit down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday to discuss private health care ahead of next week’s summit with premiers.
Trudeau is expected to meet with provincial and territorial leaders in Ottawa next Tuesday to discuss a new health-care funding deal.
“The deal will be a failure if it doesn’t include major commitments to hire more health-care workers,” Singh said Monday, adding that the funding should be kept within the public system.
The last time Trudeau and Singh met one-on-one, as outlined in the confidence-and-supply agreement between the Liberals and the NDP, was in December.
Singh said now is the time for the Liberal government to make clear that funding private health-care facilities will not improve the shortage of health-care workers Canada is facing.
On Monday, legislators’ first day back at the House of Commons after a winter break, the NDP requested an emergency debate on the privatization of health care. The request was denied.
During the first question period of the year, Trudeau said his government will continue to ensure the provinces and territories abide by the Canada Health Act.
“We know that even as we negotiate with the provinces to ensure that we’re delivering more family doctors, better mental-health supports, moving forward on backlogs, supporting Canadians who need emergency care, we will ensure the Canada Health Act is fully respected,” Trudeau said.
“In the past, this government has pulled back money from provinces that haven’t respected it. We will continue to do that.”
Singh said that while health care falls under provincial jurisdiction, he believes the federal government could be using the Canada Health Act more aggressively to challenge for-profit care.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government announced earlier this month that it’s moving some procedures to publicly funded, private facilities to address a growing surgery wait-list, which worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan have already made similar moves.
“We think the federal government should be making it very clear that the solution to the current health-care crisis will not come from a privatization, for-profit delivery of care. It’ll only come by making sure we hire, recruit, retain and respect health care,” Singh said.
“Health care is already dramatically understaffed, and for-profit facilities will poach doctors and nurses — cannibalizing hospitals, forcing people to wait longer in pain and racked with anxiety.”
The New Democrats say they’re also concerned that private facilities will upsell patients for brands and services not covered by the province, and tack on extra fees and services.
Singh spent some of Parliament’s winter break holding roundtable discussions on health care in British Columbia to discuss emergency room overcrowding and worker shortages.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.
Prime Minister stands behind newly appointed special representative on combatting Islamophobia – The Globe and Mail
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood by his newly appointed special representative on combatting Islamophobia as the country marked the sixth anniversary of the deadly Quebec City mosque shooting, while the Quebec government and federal Conservatives called for Amira Elghawaby to step aside.
Outcry over her appointment dominated headlines in Quebec. The backlash stemmed from a 2019 article co-authored by Ms. Elghawaby – a particular line of which was perceived as showing anti-Quebec sentiment. The piece opposed Bill 21, the Quebec law that bans some public servants from wearing religious symbols, such as hijabs.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Elghawaby, a human-rights advocate and journalist, pointed out that the specific sentence that has raised ire – that Quebeckers appeared to be swayed by anti-Muslim sentiment – was not her opinion, but rather, a description of a poll’s findings.
After criticism was raised last week, Mr. Trudeau said he expected Ms. Elghawaby to clarify her remarks, which she did, saying she does not believe Quebeckers are Islamophobic. Mr. Trudeau said Monday he is satisfied and wants to move forward.
Ms. Elghawaby’s mandate – to support the federal government in rooting out Islamophobia and highlight the diverse experiences of Canadian Muslims – has grown increasingly urgent. In recent years, hate crimes against Muslims have skyrocketed. And, over the past five years, Canada has taken the dark title of the Group of Seven nation with the highest number of Islamophobic killings, advocates note.
“There are anti-Muslim sentiments across Canada,” Ms. Elghawaby said. “This is not a Quebec issue. This is a Canadian issue.”
Amid the fracas, Ms. Elghawaby’s appointment is being celebrated by Muslim and non-Muslim advocates alike.
Stephen Brown, chief executive officer of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, or NCCM, said they are very happy to see Ms. Elghawaby’s appointment, noting she has a long history of advocating for Muslims, is bilingual and very dedicated.
He said the recommendation for the role came out of the National Summit on Islamophobia, in 2021, after the killing of four members of one Muslim family – the Afzaals – in London, Ont., which police said was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. Six Muslim men were killed and another 19 injured in the Quebec City mosque shooting in 2017.
Born in Egypt, Ms. Elghawaby was a baby when her family immigrated to Canada, where her father worked for decades as an engineer with the federal government and her mother raised her and her siblings in an east-end Ottawa suburb.
When Ms. Elghawaby decided to start wearing a head scarf – while studying journalism at Carleton University in the early 2000s – she recalled her father warning her against it. He worried about the barriers that a visible marker of faith could pose, she said.
“I remember telling him, ‘I really believe that Canada is a place where I can put on the head scarf and I can still contribute and I can still succeed,’” she said.
Despite the realities of Islamophobia – ones that cause her to be on guard while at mosque – Ms. Elghawaby said she has always had immense hope for Canada.
Over a career spanning two decades, Ms. Elghawaby has written for CBC News and held forth as a contributing columnist for the Toronto Star; been a founding board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network; and worked with the National Council of Canadian Muslims and, most recently, for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.
In interviews, several people said Ms. Elghawaby is known for her work building connections across communities.
Debbie Douglas, the executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, described Ms. Elghawaby as very concerned with how Islamophobia ties into women’s rights and to anti-Black racism, as well as issues of antisemitism.
She pays attention to “the need for real bridge-building and conversations,” Ms. Douglas noted. “You often found her where there’s lots of cross-cultural communications happening.”
Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, called Ms. Elghawaby the “perfect appointment.”
“We are living in very dark times,” he said. “Most people allow the darkness to envelop us. Amira is quite the opposite. She insists that there is light.”
He said Ms. Elghawaby has been instrumental in bringing Jewish and Muslim leadership together for difficult conversations. He also described doing trainings – he on antisemitism and she on Islamophobia – for police agencies.
And together, the pair authored the 2019 column that elicited criticism from some.
The pair wrote: “Unfortunately, the majority of Quebeckers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment. A poll conducted by Léger Marketing earlier this year found that 88 per cent of Quebeckers who held negative views of Islam supported the ban.”
Ms. Elghawaby said the pair had seen Montreal Gazette reporting on the poll, which stated that “anti-Muslim sentiment appears to be the main motivation for those who support a ban on religious symbols,” and that the poll found most Quebeckers supported Bill 21.
Mr. Brown, of the NCCM, said no one felt that Léger was “Quebec bashing” when it put those numbers out.
Sarah Mushtaq, a community advocate in Windsor, Ont., who writes columns for the Windsor Star, said Ms. Elghawaby’s kindness and wisdom – and ability to navigate tense issues – have made an impact on her.
Part of being a Muslim in the public sphere means that, sometimes, “no one is ever happy with what you said,” she said.
“You never know how certain comments are going to get dug up and misconstrued,” she added.
She said the role of a federal representative dedicated to combatting Islamophobia is “long overdue” and it’s important that a visibly Muslim woman is filling it.
“Despite the naysayers, there’s a lot of people who are grateful that this role exists,” she said. “We are behind her.”
Parliamentarians kick off return to House of Commons with debate on child care
The economy was top of mind for members of Parliament as they returned to the House of Commons Monday, with the Liberal government kicking off the new sitting with a debate on child care.
Families Minister Karina Gould tabled Bill C-35 last December, which seeks to enshrine the Liberals’ national daycare plan into law — and commit Ottawa to maintaining long-term funding.
The federal government has inked deals with provinces and territories in an effort to cut fees down to an average of $10 per day by 2026.
During a debate today, Gould said all parties should support the bill, and the national plan has begun saving families money.
But Conservative MP Michelle Ferreri said the plan is “subsidizing the wealthy” while failing to reduce wait times for child-care spaces and address labour shortages in the sector.
Ferreri told MPs that the Conservatives would be presenting “strong amendments” to the legislation.
The debate comes amid concerns about a possible recession this year, with both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre saying their focus will be on the cost of living.
But Poilievre’s Tories may have little room to manoeuvre in the legislature.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters upon his return to the House of Commons that he does not believe there is any room to work with the Conservatives during the upcoming sitting.
Instead, the NDP says it plans to push the Liberals to fulfil the terms of the parties’ confidence-and-supply agreement, such as the planned expansion of federal dental care.
Under the deal signed last March, the NDP agreed to support the minority government on key House of Commons votes in exchange for the Liberals moving ahead on New Democrat policy priorities.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.
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