Canadian Security Magazine

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

By Jim Bronskill for The Canadian Press   

News Public Sector

The RCMP is concerned that new anti-terrorism legislation might hurt - not help - its security efforts in overseas hotspots, internal notes say.

The Mounties worry 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, the 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.”

The RCMP had no immediate comment.

National security investigations, especially ones with international dimensions, are complex and challenging for all parties, requiring thoughtful collaboration, 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 – that are 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 maintain separate investigations of the same target.

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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