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Jeffrey Delisle leaves court in Halifax on Oct. 10, 2012. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison last February for violating the Security of Information Act. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)
Jeffrey Delisle leaves court in Halifax on Oct. 10, 2012. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison last February for violating the Security of Information Act. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

CSIS knew of convicted navy spy’s activity but held file back from RCMP Add to ...

“It certainly could have changed the timing [of Delisle’s response] because he might not have been so quick to go ahead and say, ‘OK, look, I’m done.’” There is no possibility of an appeal and Taylor said he understands there’s little public sympathy for someone who has admitted to selling out his country, but he argues the government has a legal obligation to disclose everything it knows to an accused.

“They cannot be allowed to operate under that kind of a covert veil,” Taylor said. “The potential for civil rights violations is huge.”

CSIS was created in 1984 from the ashes of the old RCMP Security Service, which was disbanded following a series of headline-grabbing scandals. The new spy service would gather information and advise the federal government of security threats, but have no arrest powers.

It has meant that CSIS must hand over a case to the RCMP or work in parallel with the Mounties, then pass along the file when it comes time to take suspected spies or terrorists into custody.

But it hasn’t always gone smoothly.

The infamous case of the 1985 Air India airliner bombing is often cited as the most obvious failure to forge a well-oiled working relationship between the agencies.

Steps have been taken in recent years to encourage closer co-operation between CSIS and the RCMP.

In response to recommendations of a 2010 federal inquiry report on the Air India attack, the Conservative government began reviewing the process of disclosure in court proceedings involving national security.

The RCMP and CSIS are “developing best practices to ensure that the disclosure of intelligence in the context of criminal investigations occurs in the most expeditious and efficient manner,” said a federal update on the process last July.

At a Senate committee hearing in February, then-CSIS director Dick Fadden expressed confidence in the procedures.

“With the RCMP, we have developed a policy and practice called ‘one vision,’” Fadden said. “We put all this in a document with illustrations from case law that the courts have developed. My sense is that it is working pretty well.”

Both CSIS and the RCMP had no comment on the spy service’s involvement in the Delisle file. The FBI did not respond to a request to discuss the case, and it would not release any information in response to a Freedom of Information Act application, citing Delisle’s privacy rights.

The Canadian Press asked Fadden after the February committee hearing about the timing of CSIS’s awareness of the Delisle case, but he declined to answer. Fadden recently became deputy minister of defence.

Michel Coulombe, CSIS’s deputy director of operations, refused to speak with the news agency. He has since become the spy agency’s interim director.

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