Federal guide for the surveillance of border agencies and sources written but never published

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A recently released note shows that Canada’s border agency approved rules to guide its most intrusive intelligence operations months ago, but the federal government has yet to issue the ministerial directive.The memo, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, describes efforts over the past seven years to introduce official government instructions on the use by the Border Services Agency of Canada’s surveillance and confidential sources.

A civil liberties group called the delay in issuing the guidance “deeply concerning”.

The border agency’s 14,000 employees annually manage the flow of millions of travelers and commercial shipments entering Canada.

They collect, analyze and disseminate information on people and goods at border posts, terminals and seaports.

Border officials can stop travelers for questioning, take blood and breath samples, and search, detain and arrest people.

The agency also covertly observes individuals, vehicles and places of information gathering when there is reason to believe laws have been broken. And he donates money to confidential sources whose information leads to significant enforcement action.

Instruction never officially issued

Written instructions from the Minister of Public Safety have long been viewed as key measures to ensure accountability by security agencies, given their extraordinary powers.

In September 2013, the then Conservative Minister of Public Safety agreed to issue a directive to the border agency regarding its sensitive investigative techniques, says the memo prepared earlier this year for the president of the John Ossowski border agency.

In 2014, Public Safety Canada, in consultation with the border agency and the Department of Justice, developed such a directive, but it “was never officially published,” the note added.

In August last year, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians recommended that the Minister of Public Safety provide written guidance to the border agency on how to conduct sensitive activities.

“This direction should include accountability expectations and annual reporting obligations,” said the committee’s report, which became public in revised form in March.

The memo to Ossowski says that a draft ministerial directive prepared for the president is aligned with border agency policies and “provides increased oversight and accountability for activities inherent in the agency’s risk.”

Officials recommended Ossowski approve the draft, the text of which was exempt from disclosure under the Access Act.

The note shows that Osowski approved the draft directive at the end of February. A month later, the federal government was seized with the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

Louis-Carl Brissette Lesage, a spokesperson for the border agency, said the instruction had not yet been given. “For all other questions, please contact Public Safety directly, as it is their policy. “

Ministerial direction to come

Mary-Liz Power, spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, said instructions to the agency would be issued shortly and would be made public.

“It is essential that a clear direction be given to our agencies on the controls of the officials engaged in sensitive activities of national interest”, she declared.

“Government and agency officials must be accountable to our laws, the oversight mechanisms that make them work effectively, and the ministers responsible for them. ”

The official definition of expectations in ministerial leadership is at the very bottom of the accountability scale of a public entity, especially one that has the power to secretly collect intelligence, said Meghan McDermott of British Columbia. Civil Liberties Association.

“So it is of deep concern to us that it has not yet been released,” she said.

McDermott acknowledged COVID-19 canceled all schedules, but noted that the delay in this case appears to be part of a larger pattern, given that a draft guideline was also developed several years ago. .

“What’s the heist? “

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