A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada’s spy agency, an issue that made headlines last summer, stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada’s spy agency, an issue that made headlines last summer, stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Canada’s spy agency shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, audit shows

Among the shortcomings were insufficient training of personnel and a lack of quality-control measures

A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada’s spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years.

Internal reviewers found several of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s preparatory steps for the execution of warrant powers needed strengthening.

Among the shortcomings were insufficient training of personnel and a lack of quality-control measures.

In underscoring the importance of the process, the report notes warrants are authorizations issued by a federal judge that enable CSIS to legally undertake actions, including surveilling people electronically, that would otherwise be illegal.

“Failure to properly apply or interpret a warrant at the time of its execution exposes the Service to the risk of its employees committing unlawful actions, and in certain situations, criminal offences,” the report says.

“The investigative powers outlined in warrants must be exercised rigorously, consistently and effectively.”

Potential misuse of these powers could result in serious ethical, legal or reputational consequences that might compromise the intelligence service’s integrity, the report adds.

The Canadian Press requested the 2012 audit under the Access to Information Act shortly after its completion, but CSIS withheld much of the content.

The news agency filed a complaint through the federal information commissioner’s office in July 2013, beginning a process that led to disclosure of a substantial portion of the document more than seven years later.

CSIS operates with a high degree of secrecy and is therefore supposed to follow the proper protocols and legal framework, particularly concerning warrants, said Tim McSorley, national coordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, which includes dozens of civil society organizations.

“Seeing a report like this, it just raises a concern … to what degree they’re really following that framework with the most rigour possible.”

CSIS can apply to the Federal Court for a warrant when intrusive collection techniques are needed because other methods have failed or are unlikely to succeed.

Once a judge approves a warrant but before it is executed, a step known as the invocation process takes place. It involves a request from CSIS personnel to use one or more of the authorized powers and a review of the facts underpinning the warrant to ensure appropriate measures are employed against the correct people.

However, the reviewers found CSIS policy did not “clearly define or document the objectives or requirements of the invocation process.”

“When roles and responsibilities are not documented, they may not be fully understood by those involved. As a result, elements of the process may not be performed, or be performed by people who do not have sufficient knowledge or expertise to do so.”

Overall, the report found the invocation process “needs to be strengthened” through a clear definition of objectives, requirements and roles, and better monitoring, training and development of quality-control procedures.

In response, CSIS management spelled out a series of planned improvements for the auditors.

But concerns have persisted about the spy service’s warrant procedures.

A Federal Court of Canada ruling released in July said CSIS had failed to disclose its reliance on information that was likely collected illegally in support of warrants to probe extremism.

Justice Patrick Gleeson found CSIS violated its duty of candour to the court, part of a long-standing and troubling pattern.

“The circumstances raise fundamental questions relating to respect for the rule of law, the oversight of security intelligence activities and the actions of individual decision-makers,” he wrote.

Gleeson called for an in-depth look at interactions between CSIS and the federal Justice Department to fully identify systemic, governance and cultural shortcomings and failures.

The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, the key watchdog over CSIS, is examining the issues.

Another review, completed early last year by former deputy minister of justice Morris Rosenberg, called for improvements, including better training and clarification of roles, but stressed they would not succeed unless the “cultural issues around warrants” were addressed.

CSIS spokesman John Townsend said the intelligence service continuously works to improve training and updates its policies and procedures accordingly, informed by audits, reviews and best practices.

The Rosenberg review prompted CSIS to launch an effort last year to further the service’s ability to meet its duty of candour to the court, resulting in a plan that was finalized in January, Townsend said.

“The plan includes specific action items directed at ensuring the warrant process is more responsive to operational needs, documenting the full intelligence picture to facilitate duty of candour and ensuring CSIS meets expectations set by the Federal Court,” he said.

“In addition to training on CSIS’s duty of candour already provided under the auspices of the project, additional training on a variety of operational issues including warrant acquisition will be developed by the project team and offered to employees.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Creston Valley Farmers’ Market will be opening for the outdoor season this weekend. (File Photo)
A new season at the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market begins

Opening day will be on Saturday, April 24

Frisky Whisky has closed its doors to the public under public health orders. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Cocktail lounge in Creston gets creative to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions

Frisky Whisky is now offering a lunch takeout menu and take-home cocktail kits

(Pixabay)
Earth Day: Creston Climate Action asks residents to join the conversation on climate change

In celebration of Earth Day, local Creston Climate Action group is inviting… Continue reading

Kimberley case counts not at the point for 18 years and older community vaccination, says Interior Health. (File photo)
Many factors considered for smaller community-wide vaccination: Interior Health

East Kootenay resort town’s COVID-19 situation not at the point of community-wide vaccination, say officials

Nav Canada will not be closing the tower at West Kootenay Regional Airport. Photo: Betsy Kline
Nav Canada tower to remain open at West Kootenay Regional Airport

The organization was considering closing the tower

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Nanaimo RCMP say a man was injured while pouring gunpowder on a backyard fire in Harewood on Wednesday, April 21. (File photo)
Nanaimo man hospitalized after pouring gunpowder onto backyard fire

RCMP investigating explosion in Harewood also came across a still for making alcohol on property

Most Read