Highly classified documents obtained by VICE News offer new insights into how Canada’s two-headed spy apparatus works to blend its intelligence, skirt court oversight of its spying powers, and intercept communications inside the country’s borders.
Christopher Parsons, postdoctoral fellow at the Munk School, says there is long-standing ambiguity over when CSE can and cannot spy on its own citizens. And it’s worrying.
“Generally, we have questions about how meaningful, or not meaningful, Mandate C actually is,” he told VICE News.
Craig Forcese, law professor at the University of Ottawa and one of Canada’s foremost experts on security policy, says Mandate C is a tunnel through the barrier stopping CSE’s from snooping on Canadians.
“If CSE is providing assistance to CSIS under Mandate C, then CSE is clothed with the same legal authority CSIS has,” Forcese says. “So it can act as CSIS’s technological appendix, including in conducting domestic surveillance.”
University of Ottawa Professor Wesley Wark, a specialist in intelligence and national security, says there is need for a review body that can actually investigate how Mandate C is used, “in a way typically that the current CSE Commissioner has not, I don’t think, very fully.”
“The Ministry returned the letter requesting further details to address concerns raised by the Minister’s Office in relation to CSIS authority to enter into subsequent arrangements without further approval from the Minister each time,” reads a summary of changes requested to the documents.
It’s unclear if the minister’s change was actually made.
“If the minister put a stop to that, he should be congratulated,” says Parsons. The simple fact that the agencies were trying to bestow themselves that power is “more than a little bit concerning,” he says.
It’s long been speculated that signals intelligence has been the basis for many warrants and criminal charges, but that the fingerprints of CSE’s involvement were scrubbed before the application to the court was made.
“There’s a real question whether it’s CSE or CSIS in the driver’s seat,” says Parsons.