Changes to CSIS Oversight May Mean More Self-Reliance

by on June 24, 2012  •  In CSIS, National Security

There were two recent op-ed pieces by Andrew Mitrovica (author of Covert Entry: Spies, Lies and Crimes Inside Canada’s Secret Service) in the Toronto Star that neatly encapsulate the concerns that the Muslim commnity should have about the current state of CSIS oversight bodies.

In his first piece from April 30, 2012 , he outlines how Stephen Harper’s Conservative government quietly shuttered the office of the Inspector General (IG), the only independent agency that provided some measure of oversight over CSIS’s day-to-day operations.

In his second piece from June 16, 2012, he discusses the naming of Chuck Strahl, a former Conservative cabinet minister, to chair the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), the oversight agency for CSIS.  While not casting aspersions about the character about Mr. Strahl, Mitrovica laments his woeful inexperience in the area.  You may recall that the previous Chair of SIRC resigned amid questions about his judgment in business dealings.  Having personally met that previous Chair myself at a conference in the Fall of 2011, I was quite saddened by the lack of confidence he inspired and his apparently weak grasp of the issues or community concerns.

At the offices of Kutty, Syed & Mohamed, we have had the opportunity to deal with over a hundred cases of CSIS interactions with clients.   While most have been quite courteous and professional, there have been instances where clients have felt frightened and intimidated.  Sometimes, the situation has been exacerbated by misunderstandings or miscommunications.  Though those reactions would not ordinarily form the basis for any complaints (as personal interviews is one of the ways in CSIS collect information that may be relevant to their duties), we have heard and witnessed instances of tactics, words and deeds, which at the very least raised eyebrows, if not more serious concerns.   Up until recently, we felt there was at least a reasonable review process (at least relative to those available for complaints relating to the conduct of RCMP or CBSA).  Now, we’re not so confident.

To be absolutely clear, we don’t provide any blanket advice or discourage anyone from meeting or co-operating with CSIS.  Every situation is different and each person should make their own informed decision. If they do speak with CSIS, we recommend that they do so in the presence of a lawyer. In addition to advising a potential interviewee of their legal rights and legal best interests , a lawyer  could at the very least act as a witness to the interaction. Of course, if there is an urgent matter, of life or death, co-operation with authorities would be be religiously mandated.

We have not yet developed a multi-media guide to your rights with respect to CSIS, but the organization known as Muslim Advocates in the U.S. has produced an excellent video educating people with respect to FBI visits that could also apply to CSIS situations.  We encourage you to see their video at their website called “Got Rights”.

We’ve been trying to make the point for many years that in the context that Muslims have living in since 9/11, as well as negative experiences they may have had with authoritarian regimes in many of their countries of origin, visits by intelligence and law enforcement agencies can be more than a little disconcerting.  A facinating scholarly attempt by a young Muslima to study the impact of CSIS visits on Canadian Muslims formed part of her Master’s Thesis.  Her findings offer a fair representation of the effects and reactions that have resulted, some of which we’ve also observed with some of our own clients.



Irfan is a Business and Charities lawyer as well as a Trademark Agent. He is a principal in the firm of Kutty, Syed & Mohamed based in Toronto (Scarborough), Ontario, Canada. His clients range from individual entrepreneurs, family businesses and private companies to not-for-profit organizations, charitable institutions and public companies.

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