An investigation by the watchdog over the Canadian Security Intelligence Service concludes the spy agency “uses information obtained by torture” – perhaps its bluntest assessment of CSIS’s intelligence-gathering practices to date.
The Security Intelligence Review Committee, which began looking into the issue two years ago, stops short of accepting Toronto lawyer Paul Copeland’s assertion that CSIS had shown a “total lack of concern” about evidence possibly gathered through coercive means.
But it finds that CSIS’s concern has focused on the impact that torture might have on the reliability of information it uses, rather than obligations under the Charter of Rights, the Criminal Code and international treaties “that absolutely reject torture.”
Questions about Canadian reliance on information extracted from suspected terrorists through brutal methods have arisen in several high-profile cases.
Copeland’s complaint to the review committee, which reports to Parliament, stemmed from evidence CSIS entered in the case of client Mohamed Harkat who is slated for deportation to his native Algeria under a national security certificate.
CSIS contends Harkat, a former pizza delivery man, is an Islamic extremist and collaborator with Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network – a charge he denies.
During bail proceedings for Harkat in 2005, Copeland questioned a senior CSIS analyst, identified only as P.G., whether he ever asked if information he handled was obtained through torture.
P.G. insisted he would usually try to corroborate such material through independent sources.
Copeland was left with the impression the spy service made no effort to determine whether information was extracted by torture.
In its report, recently delivered to Copeland, committee member Aldea Landry noted CSIS is required, before entering a foreign liaison arrangement, to address the country’s human rights record. That includes possible abuses by its security or intelligence organizations.
In addition, arrangements with countries that do not share Canada’s respect for human rights are to be considered only when contact is necessary to protect the security of Canada.
“Based on these facts, I find CSIS is concerned with human rights, but nevertheless uses information obtained by torture.”
In an interview, Copeland said Tuesday he does not take much comfort from the review committee’s finding: “It’s nice to have them say it, but what are they doing to try and prevent CSIS from (using such information)?”
Landry called on CSIS to promptly implement the recommendations of the federal inquiry into the case of Maher Arar.
Landry said the changes – and any that might flow from an ongoing inquiry into the foreign imprisonment of three other Arab-Canadians – would ensure the use of information obtained from other countries does not violate Canadian law or treaty obligations.
Justice Dennis O’Connor, who led an inquiry into Arar’s case, made a number of recommendations in September 2006 intended to guard against Canadian complicity in torture and to safeguard the rights of those confronted with evidence that may have been gathered using extreme methods.
Arar, an Ottawa engineer, was sent to Syria and imprisoned in Damascus after being detained at a U.S. airport in September 2002. O’Connor concluded false information the RCMP provided to American officials likely led to Arar’s deportation.
In committee report, Landry said CSIS had made some strides toward ensuring compliance with O’Connor’s recommendations but that “it will take some time” to fully do so.
Manon Berube, a CSIS spokeswoman, said the intelligence service would “closely evaluate” the new review committee report as part of “its ongoing efforts to improve how it deals with this difficult issue.”
Former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci is currently probing the actions of Canadian officials in the cases of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin.
The trio maintain they were tortured in Syria – and in the case of El Maati in Egypt as well – due to flawed information from Canadian security agencies.