Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cory resigning as CSE Commissioner?

The Globe and Mail reported on Saturday that retired Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory is resigning from his job as CSE Commissioner, just three months after he accepted the job (Colin Freeze, "Commissioner leaving cyber-spy agency," Globe and Mail, 6 March 2010).

According to the report, which has not yet been confirmed, Cory is resigning because he "believes his part-time job as commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment conflicts with his continuing role in advising the federal Justice Department on legal issues," and he has decided to remain in the latter role.

At first glance, this is certainly a plausible explanation: the Department of Justice supplies the Communications Security Establishment's legal advice, so any disputes between the CSE Commissioner and CSE over interpretation of CSE's mandate or the legality of its activities are in effect disputes between the Commissioner and the Department of Justice.

And it just so happens that there is already a longstanding (and as far as the public knows still unresolved) dispute between the CSE Commissioners and CSE/Department of Justice over the legality of some undisclosed aspect of CSE's activities. The first the public heard of it was in CSE Commissioner Antonio Lamer's 2005-06 Annual Report. Lamer's successor, Charles Gonthier, picked up the torch when he took office and continued to pursue the issue until his untimely death last year. The dispute was probably the biggest question hanging over the office of the Commissioner when Cory accepted the job in December.

But, that being the case, if conflict of interest is really the issue here, why didn't Cory and his government overlords think of it before he took the job? What the hell is going on here?

With Cory never really having had the time to settle into the job, we've now gone the better part of a year with effectively no CSE Commissioner in the midst of a legality dispute that has already dragged on for five years (or maybe more)--despite the blindingly obvious fact that the fundamental purpose of having a Commissioner is to provide assurance to Canadians that CSE obeys the law! And now this government, which never met a watchdog it didn't instinctively want to neuter, has to start from scratch looking for a new candidate for Commissioner?

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