Sunday, June 19, 2016

Twenty years of OCSEC

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the Office of the CSE Commissioner (OCSEC). The first CSE Commissioner, Claude Bisson, was appointed on 19 June 1996.

Since 1996, there have been six CSE Commissioners:
  • Claude Bisson (1996-2003)
  • Antonio Lamer (2003-2006)
  • Charles Gonthier (2006-2009)
  • Peter Cory (2009-2010)
  • Robert Décary (2010-2013)
  • Jean-Pierre Plouffe (2013-present)

OCSEC has been the subject of a lot of criticism over the past two decades, some of it justified and a lot of it not.

Here's one of my own contributions to that literature. (You can decide for yourself whether it falls into the justified or unjustified camp.)

Such criticisms shouldn't blind us to the vitally important role that OCSEC has played over the years in reinforcing an ethos of legal compliance at CSE and ensuring that mechanisms to monitor and assess that compliance are established and implemented. But a strong case can be made that CSE's review body—like those of the Canadian security and intelligence community as a whole—is in dire need of improvement.

Kent Roach and Craig Forcese argue that OCSEC and the review bodies for CSIS and the RCMP should be combined into a single agency that would monitor all components of the Canadian security and intelligence community, as part of a wider set of accountability improvements ("Bridging the National Security Accountability Gap: A Three-Part System to Modernize Canada's Inadequate Review of National Security," Ottawa Faculty of Law Working Paper No. 2016-05, 31 March 2016).

Wesley Wark's recent comments on the future of review ("Canada’s spy watchdogs: Good, but not good enough," Globe and Mail, 1 February 2016) are also worth reading.

The Trudeau government took a major step towards implementation of one aspect of this reform agenda with the introduction on June 16th of Bill C-22, which will establish a committee of parliamentarians to review the S&I community as a whole. (See Forcese's comments on that step here.)

Other changes may be yet in the offing.

For the time being, however, the future of the 20-year-old OCSEC remains undecided.

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