Poor communication between CSIS and RCMP delays investigations, watchdog says

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Flaws in the way Canada’s spy agency and national police force share information is blocking investigations – including one involving Canada-based extremists – according to a new report from the country’s intelligence watchdog .

The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA), which was created to oversee the activities of Canada’s national security and intelligence sector, recently examined how the RCMP and the Canadian Intelligence Service security collaborated in an ongoing investigation into domestic extremism.

The report was sent to the Minister of Public Safety earlier this year. Most of the details of the 2019 investigation are obscured in the NSIRA report, even its general location.

For example, one line in the report simply says that in 2015, CSIS “noted an increase in threat-related activity in [redacted.]”

What the report makes clear is that the reluctance of CSIS and the RCMP to speak up has resulted in delays in serious cases, making them even more difficult to investigate.

“These cases illustrate a mutual reluctance to pursue formal disclosure of information by CSIS, even in cases where the alleged threats were serious or imminent and even though the alternative avenue of investigation was slower and involved different challenges,” wrote the NSIRA.

“Overall, the NSIRA has found that CSIS and the RCMP have made little progress in addressing the threat under investigation.

The theme running through the report is the struggle to maintain and sustain “from intelligence to evidence” – the gap between what intelligence agencies have and police forces need for prosecutions.

Report says CSIS is under pressure to protect operational information – its tactics, methods, where its spies are – while police and prosecutors are supposed to both ensure prosecution and protect the rights of an accused to a fair trial.

“Despite frequent verbal exchanges between CSIS and RCMP headquarters, official disclosures of information by CSIS have been very limited and not always helpful,” the NSIRA report said.

“Front-line RCMP investigators derive little benefit from the work of CSIS.

The RCMP are also reluctant to use CSIS information, fearing that the service’s involvement could jeopardize the chances of a successful prosecution.

“At the end of the day, CSIS and the RCMP appear to be trapped by the constraints under which the two organizations believe they must operate in order to avoid jeopardizing the prosecution. CSIS is concerned about the long-term results of disclosure, just as the RCMP believes CSIS intelligence alters its investigations. , says the report.

Frustration on both sides

As a result, the NSIRA said, RCMP investigations are progressing slowly while CSIS sits on an “intelligence find.”

The NSIRA said, for example, it heard CSIS employees exasperated by gendarmes taking investigative steps they knew were misguided. RCMP officers, meanwhile, knew CSIS had information it was not providing that could help with police investigations, the report said.

The report also mentions occasions when the national security unit of the RCMP’s federal police had access to CSIS information but did not share it with investigators.

Leah West, a former federal lawyer who now teaches at Carleton University, said the consequence is that investigations do not start, which is particularly troubling when it comes to violent extremism.

“They are allowed to continue to engage in any threatening activity that they engage in, to support the activities of others possibly,” she said.

The RCMP are also reluctant to use CSIS information, fearing that the service’s involvement could jeopardize the chances of a successful prosecution. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

“When we talk about the risk of extremism, we know these things are contagious.”

West also said the report raises serious questions about the status quo’s “intelligence-to-evidence” approach.

“By trying to prevent CSIS intelligence from tainting law enforcement investigations into threats to national security, we are simply achieving a complete lack of criminal investigations into national security,” he said. she declared.

“And then the question is, which one is worse – the potential risk of failure of prosecution or of never investigating criminal activity that poses a threat to national security?” “

Old problem, new report

The RCMP and CSIS came together to create what they called a “one-sided strategy” – a strategy that the watchdog said led to improvements while leaving “serious gaps”.

The NSIRA recommends, among other things, that CSIS find a safe way to share information with the police.

“Surely, this state of affairs could be improved,” the report said.

CSIS said it was working with the RCMP to improve the relationship.

“The RCMP and CSIS continue to fully support the implementation of these necessary changes in our organizations. This work and the efforts of the community at large will ensure that the Government of Canada has a solid basis for enhanced collaboration and the best tools available to mitigate threats and ensure public safety, ”said CSIS spokesperson John Townsend.

“This complex work, however, is underway and challenges remain, particularly with regard to the question of intelligence and evidence. These significant challenges will require a whole-of-government approach to be addressed.”

The problem dates back to the creation of CSIS in 1984, following the dissolution of the RCMP Security Service. Sister agencies have long been pressured to cooperate more effectively on security matters.

A briefing note prepared for the Minister of Public Safety last year warned that failure to address intelligence and evidence issues “will severely limit the government’s ability to deal with current and most emerging threats. serious for national security ”.


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