Canadian spies might blow our efforts abroad if caught by authorities: RCMP

New powers granted by Bill C-51 could inadvertently jeopardize existing relationships for CSIS spies, memos reveal

OTTAWA – The RCMP is concerned new anti-terrorism legislation might hurt — not help — its security efforts overseas, internal notes say.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s new powers to disrupt threats “could inadvertently jeopardize existing relationships” the Mounties have fostered if authorities discover what CSIS is doing, RCMP briefing notes warn.

There will be additional pressure on the Mounties to co-ordinate with the spy service so that criminal investigations are not “negatively affected,” add the notes, prepared for RCMP deputy commissioner Mike Cabana’s appearance at a Senate committee.

The Canadian Press used the Access to Information Act to obtain the detailed documents, drafted in advance of Cabana’s April 20 testimony on the government’s sweeping security bill, known as C-51.

The bill, which has since become law, explicitly empowers CSIS to thwart security threats — going well beyond its traditional information-gathering role — by meddling with extremist websites, diverting illicit shipments or engaging in myriad other schemes.

The newly disclosed notes underscore the need for a federal security czar to oversee and direct the anti-terrorism activities of Canadian agencies that might otherwise trip over one another, said University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese.

“What we’ve done with C-51 is we’ve enhanced the prospect of traffic collisions and road carnage without putting in place the traffic-light system.”

National security investigations, especially ones with international dimensions, are complex and challenging for all parties, said CSIS spokeswoman Tahera Mufti.

“The Service has always understood, respected and supported the distinct but complementary mandates of our various partners, and is working closely with the RCMP on this aspect of our relationship.”

The Mounties have liaison officers in Turkey, Kenya and Pakistan — among other places — pursuing criminal investigations of Canadians who have travelled to take part in terrorist activities in Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria, the internal notes point out.

“The RCMP, with significant relationships with international law enforcement agencies abroad, is concerned that CSIS threat-diminishment activities in a foreign country, if detected by the authorities, could inadvertently jeopardize existing relationships on particular investigations.”

CSIS and the RCMP have a history of turf wars and limited communication, given their common interests — but different mandates — and the spy service’s long-standing concerns about secret intelligence being introduced in open court proceedings.

In recent years the agencies have worked under what they call “de-confliction protocols” that allow them to conduct separate investigations of the same target.

Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer, an RCMP spokesman, said the national police force is confident its “strong and co-operative” relationship with CSIS will allow the spy service to investigate threats outside Canada without “negatively impacting” RCMP efforts.

“The RCMP and CSIS are in the process of strengthening protocols to ensure the continuing ability to maintain separate and distinct investigations and intelligence collection on parallel tracks.”

CSIS and the RCMP work together while maintaining “an appropriate degree of separation between the two agencies,” said Jeremy Laurin, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney.

The internal RCMP notes say CSIS’s new mandate will mean revising the Mounties’ national security-related training courses.

“For certain, there will be additional pressure on the RCMP to de-conflict with CSIS in a timely manner to ensure that criminal investigations are not negatively affected — for instance through inadvertent interference with the chain of evidence or preventing the ability to lay criminal charges.”

The notes suggest that, in the end, the Mounties will chart their own course regardless of what the spies do.

The RCMP has a “robust range of disruption tools” and continues to develop its own ability to diminish threats in light of rapidly evolving changes, the notes say.

“Should there be any questions: The RCMP is entitled to investigative independence and no official may direct how RCMP investigations are conducted.”

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