Opinion: Tories just like Keystone Cops in handling of the Delisle spy case

June-05-13

VANCOUVER SUN / CALGARY HERALD / MONTREAL GAZETTE 

Tragic Comedy: the Tory’s handling of the Delisle spy case

By Hon. John McKay M.P.

The Government of Canada’s indifference to the most serious breach of national security since the Munsinger Affair is scandalous.  It will be recalled that in that case, Parliamentary inquiries were held, procedures were changed, and Ministers resigned.  The Delisle Affair, on the other hand, has been largely consequence-free.

The Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews, is supposed to be responsible for both the RCMP and CSIS.  His responses thus far have been limited to “non-comment” comments.  However, it has to be asked how one agency in his portfolio, CSIS, withheld vital information from the other agency in his portfolio, the RCMP.  How can a Minister discharge his responsibilities to keep us all secure if he doesn’t know or can’t tell the police that we have a very serious breach of national security?  Neither ignorance nor withholding information is acceptable in a responsible government.

Seated next to him in the House of Commons is the Minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay.  It seems that Minister MacKay was the last to know of his own department’s security breaches.  CSIS knew, the FBI knew, but the Minister of National Defence did not know, and the Minister of Public Safety did not tell him.

The FBI became so concerned about highly-classified information leaking out of the Department of National Defence and into the hands of the Russians, that it contemplated staging a kidnapping of Delisle in order to staunch the bleeding.

Ultimately, the FBI was forced to provide some adult supervision and alert the Department of National Defence and the RCMP.  Delislie was subsequently intercepted by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) upon his return from Brazil, after a meeting with his Russian supervisor.

The role of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) adds one more level of absurdity to this already sorry affair.  While Delisle was delivering highly-classified information to his masters, Arthur Porter was the Chair of SIRC.  Mr. Porter has been charged with fraud and is spending some time in a Panamanian jail, potentially in the company of drug dealers and organized crime kingpins.  Here we have a man who has been sworn into the Privy Council, is in possession of some of Canada’s most sensitive information, and is in jail with criminal elements.

Meanwhile, the Minister of National Defence, who knew nothing, steps into this Keystone Kops soap opera and blandly assures us that our allies have complete confidence in Canada and its security systems.

"Our allies have full confidence in Canada, full confidence in our information"

The only thing more incredible than Mr. MacKay’s statement is his expectation that anyone should believe it.  One can rest assured that the Americans and our other most trusted allies are furious at the system-wide failure and even more furious that, months later, little or nothing has been done to repair the damage.

It is hard to know which is worse, the security failure itself, or the disinterest in review and repair.  At a personnel level, this security breach has been consequence-free.  No Minister has lost his or her job.  No civil servant, police officer, security official or member of the military has been reprimanded, fired, or fixed with responsibility.  It is perfectly understandable.  If the Ministers don’t take responsibility, how can others be expected to be held accountable?

The former President of the United States Harry Truman once said, “The buck stops here”.  In the Harper version of responsible government, the buck-passing never stops.  The only personnel movement thus far has been the re-assignment of director Richard Fadden from the head of CSIS to deputy minister of National Defence.  Mr. Fadden was the only Canadian official with knowledge of the Delisle affair.  He would not (or could not) advise either the Minister of Public Safety or the Minister of National Defence of his knowledge, yet now he reports to the very same Minister that he kept in the dark.  It is a very curious re-assignment to say the least.

At a structural level, this system failure has also been consequence-free.  No Minister of the Crown has stood before the people of Canada and said that such a thing will never happen again.  That would be responsible.  As far as everyone knows, the systems, the structure, and the personnel are all the same.  The same inter-agency silos still exist.  The Minister of Public Safety’s left hand literally does not know what the right hand is doing.

No less a personage than Wesley Wark, from the University of Toronto, an acknowledged security expert, has called for a Parliamentary or judicial inquiry.  My colleague, Senator Roméo Dallaire, has called for a special anti-terrorism Parliamentary committee.  It is abundantly clear that the security silos at CSIS, RCMP, CBSA and DND do not talk to each other, in spite of repeated assurances to the contrary.  When Minister Toews is asked a direct question, he responds with ignorance and abuse:

“Information is shared between law enforcement agencies in accordance with Canadian law.  Speaking of Canadian law, I am wondering how many NDP MPs have not paid their taxes.”

Trust is very difficult to build and very easy to lose.  The United States and our other key allies have been shaken to their respective cores, yet the Harper Government continues to whistle past the graveyard.  We are on the cusp of being put into the security category “need to know”.  The strength of our security arrangement rests upon the trusted sharing of intelligence among the “5 Eyes” (the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada).  Canada gets a security value far in excess of what we could obtain on our own.  A loss of status puts us all at risk.

John McKay is the Liberal Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Guildwood in Ontario.