Canada's spy watchdogs should not be acting as lobbyists

Many are expressing outrage now that the public has become aware that Chuck Strahl is acting as a lobbyist for Enbridge, the company hoping to build a controversial oil pipeline across BC. The problem is that Strahl is also chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which is basically the only watchdog over the domestic spies at CSIS.

Regardless of your position on oil pipelines, surely all of us can agree that publicly funded government watchdogs should not be employed by those connected to the agencies they are overseeing. In this case there’s a clear conflict of interest since CSIS has been asked to aid the oil industry in monitoring environmentalists.

As PostMedia’s Stephen Maher notes, “Last year, the National Energy Board called in CSIS and the RCMP to investigate possible security threats from opponents of the Enbridge pipeline ondubious grounds. It’s hard to ask those pipeline opponents, who may have been sinned against by their government, to trust Strahl’s organization to look into whether their rights have been violated.”

It gets worse
To make matters worse, the CBC has now reported that most of the SIRC watchdog committee members have ties to the oil industry and Harper. Notable civil liberties lawyer Clayton Ruby has suggested a modest reform where watchdogs do not take positions outside their role and have full employment in their positions. “At the very least, all of them should be banned from lobbying,” Ruby says.

This all comes against the backdrop of shocking revelations from Edward Snowden about mass surveillance of innocent citizens, and Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley’s deeply worrying statement that CSIS deliberately misled him when applying for a warrant to spy on Canadians. It’s clearly time for a review of all spying activities and oversight mechanisms for CSIS, RCMP, and ultra-secretive spy agency CSEC. That’s why OpenMedia.ca has joined with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to launch a lawsuit against CSEC’s spying on law-abiding Canadians.

As Canada’s largest and broadest pro-privacy coalition and tens of thousands of Canadians have stated: “More than ever, Canadians need strong, genuinely transparent, and properly enforced safeguards to secure privacy rights. We call on Government to put in place effective legal measures to protect the privacy of every resident of Canada against intrusion by government entities."

In the end the secretiveexpensive, and out-of-control Canadian spying apparatus must be fully reined in.

Feels familiar doesn’t it?
For those of us who have been active in the Internet freedom movement this situation feels very familiar to our telecom woes. The reason we are now having to dig a way out of a system of Big Telecom price-gouging is because the government and regulators were listening to industry lobbyists rather than Canadians. That appears to also be the case with government surveillance now.

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