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CSIS to share information despite risk of torture

Evan Johnston

March 26, 2012

A newly released document to The Canadian Press reveals that the federal government has given CSIS the go-ahead to provide information to foreign agencies in “exceptional cases,” even when there is a “substantial risk” that such information will lead to torture.

The July 2011 document, released on March 2 under the Access to Information Act, is a four-page directive to CSIS director Dick Fadden providing instructions on the conditions under which information should be shared. Included in these instructions are a series of factors to consider when deciding on whether or not to share with a given government agency, such as the importance of Canada’s security, Canada’s relationship with the country in question, and the particular views of the Department of Foreign Affairs, among others.

This new document is the latest in a series of exceptions to both domestic and international law that the Canadian government has been willing to make in recent years. Since the introduction of the Anti-Terrorism Act in December 2001, the RCMP and CSIS have launched a series of operations—such as Project O Canada and Project Thread—that have involved wrongful detentions, raids, and the deportation of many people suspected of “terrorism,” which has largely been targeted at Muslim men. In 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada arguably set the precedent for the latest CSIS directive when they ruled that deportations to countries suspected of torture may be justified only in “exceptional circumstances.”

Despite a tacit acknowledgement of the recommendations of the Arar Commission—a commission set up in the aftermath of the Canadian government’s decision to deport Maher Arar to Syria, where he was tortured by Syrian authorities for a year—the instructions detailed in the CSIS directive signal a balancing act between Canada’s reputation and its national interests rather than any recognizable commitment to international law.

The outcry against this document is perhaps another example of what former CSIS director Jim Judd called the Canadian public’s “Alice in Wonderland” view of the world, which has tied CSIS “in knots” over the years due to its emphasis on such distractions as legality. If so, there remains much more down the rabbit hole to discover.

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