In its most comprehensive assessment of Canada’s anti-terror strategy to date, a parliamentary watchdog for the country’s spy agency also found that access to personal information by the RCMP has been limited in several counterterrorism investigations.
In a report released Wednesday, the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) said accessing data from Canada’s Security Intelligence Service (SIS) is now much more limited. The watchdog found that following legislation introduced in March 2013, a legislative committee was authorized to access all SIS intelligence but only a select number of high-level information and analysis files would be available for release to other departments.
For intelligence related to specific individuals, information can be released when a link to SIS is suspected but no definitive link is established, according to the report. The PBO also found that RCMP records were often restricted, which created significant challenges for investigators.
“The RCMP provided few documents relevant to its investigation of a particular individual—with the exception of one third-party entity,” reads the report. “We found the RCMP’s access to documents related to cases limited to cases in which SIS provided the RCMP with a clear link between the individual and a specific threat.”
PBO acknowledged some gains have been made following 2013 legislation, which gives the Office of the Inspector General of SIS more access to records and creates a legislative committee of inquiry to oversee the way security agencies deal with the threat of extremism. Still, the watchdog report said there is much more that can be done.
The report also looked at SIS’s use of information sharing with the RCMP, who share threats with Canada’s national security agencies.
Since the RCMP has little access to information, many times the SIS only provided general intelligence related to terror suspects, according to the report.
On the other hand, information about the source and method of funding terrorism was not often shared between the SIS and the RCMP, the report found. The watchdog recommends a more formal process for sharing some information without compromising the secrecy needed to protect national security.
The PBO report also examined the increased use of software used by SIS to stay one step ahead of possible terrorists or saboteurs. In addition to SIS and the RCMP sharing information, other Canadian agencies also share material through all forms of metadata, including signals intelligence systems, according to the report.
On Thursday, the House of Commons public safety committee held an open forum with different experts to address how Canada’s security agencies counter terrorism.
The event’s chief guest was James Bagnall, director general of intelligence within the RCMP.
He told the audience the RCMP has made substantial progress in apprehending and seeking out individuals who pose a threat to national security, but he still sees room for improvement.
When it comes to extremist cells, Bagnall told MPs the RCMP has stepped up its efforts to track suspected radicals by assigning fewer officers to tackle terrorism cases.