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Eye reviews: Who is Watching the Watchers?

By Farnia Fekri 

The first International Issues Discussion (IID) series of the year was held on Wednesday evening. Students and spy enthusiasts gathered in the George Vari Engineering building with one question on their minds — Who is Watching the Watchers? At the centre of the discussion stood Michael Doucet, an elite of Canadian intelligence services and current Executive Director of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC). SIRC serves as the independent watchdog of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

Why You Should Care

CSIS is allowed to conduct operations within Canada, and investigate what they perceive as national threats to the country. If you were thinking of ordering that truckload of pure hydrogen peroxide or joining your local terrorist group, I’d wait. If your neighbour did all the ordering and the joining but CSIS starts harassing you (here comes the epic), you can complain to SIRC.

SIRC will start investigating if CSIS starts doing things the way TV convinces us intelligence services do things (killing people on Saturday nights, not answering to anyone, etc). The goal of SIRC, according to Doucet, is to ensure that “CSIS investigates…in a manner that respects the rule of law and the rights of Canadians”, which makes SIRC’s absolute independence imperative and their total access to CSIS data convenient.

The Disclaimer

Complainants don’t usually (as in, never) get compensation for their troubles. Granted, this might be because a bunch of complaints are the “I’m-convinced-CSIS-planted-something-in-my-bowels” type. If the complaint is legitimate, it might spark a SIRC investigation.

Although SIRC publishes an annual report containing roughly eight investigations, Doucet estimates that only 75-80 per cent of these are actually implemented. Should SIRC be on a crusade to enforce the others, well, they can’t. This issue doesn’t keep Doucet up at night, because the public nature of SIRC’s report dumps the onus entirely on the government. It is worse for them to ignore a good suggestion.

Challenges to SIRC

1) Michael Doucet conducted an interesting experiment when he asked the room to put their hand up if they had read (skimmed/picked up/knew about) last year’s SIRC report. Everybody’s hands stayed quite low. Have you read it? Didn’t think so.

2) The government has started pushing security services to work together. The ramifications of such teamwork would require a collective review body as well.

What We Should Worry About

1)   The commercial world’s collection and use of our information is pretty, well, creepy. With this new obsession with targeted marketing, there is a lot of data being collected about us (I’m looking at you, -ogers).

2)   Foreign fighters, according to Doucet, are also worrisome. These are radicalized Canadians fighting abroad and maybe even coming back to Canada.

3)   The Internet is a double-edged sword, a tool for intelligence agencies and terrorists alike.

Are Canadians really apathetic or really paranoid?

“We are pretty complacent,” Doucet said. “We take our rights, our privileges, for granted.”

And let’s be real, you know it, too.

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