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Prime Minister Stephen Harper chats with Dr. Arthur Porter at a Montreal hospital on Nov.24, 2006. (Ryan Remiorz/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper chats with Dr. Arthur Porter at a Montreal hospital on Nov.24, 2006. (Ryan Remiorz/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Canada's top spy watchdog resigns Add to ...

The head of the Security and Intelligence Review Committee, the watchdog for Canada’s spy agency, has resigned.

Arthur Porter had been appointed Canada’s top spy watcher by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last year, but recently came under fire for doing business with a consultant who has surfaced in global arms deals and an alleged plot for a coup in Africa.

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In his Nov. 9 resignation letter, Dr. Porter wrote that he remains a proud Canadian citizen for whom “integrity, honour and respect hold tremendous meaning.” But he told the Prime Minister he felt compelled to step down because “a scurrilous portrayal” of his business dealings “had the potential to tarnish” the Security and Intelligence Review Committee.

“Dr. Porter has submitted his resignation to me, and I have accepted it, effective immediately,” Mr. Harper said in a written response circulated by his office.

The National Post reported this week that Dr. Porter struck a short-lived $200,000 business deal last year with Ari Ben-Menashe, a Montrealer who has published a memoir about his 1980s-era arms-dealing exploits. The globe-trotting consultant also has made international headlines for using a secret video camera to implicate a past client – Zimbabwe’s opposition leader – in a supposed coup plot.

Dr. Porter said he didn’t know about Mr. Ben-Menashe’s past when he entered a business arrangement with him. He also wrote a letter of recommendation for Mr. Ben-Menashe on Privy Council Office stationery as banks moved to shutter the consultant’s accounts.

Given all this, critics had questioned Dr. Porter’s judgment and potential for conflict of interest.

Dr. Porter is a Sierra-Leone-born oncologist. He is to complete his seven-year run as head of the McGill University Health Centre next spring. He also sits on the boards of Air Canada and several Canadian mining companies.

Dr. Porter also controls several enterprises in his war-torn homeland. He has close ties to Sierra Leone’s political leadership and describes himself as a “goodwill ambassador” for the country.

SIRC’s role is to probe the covert activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that the public is not allowed to know about.

To do this, a small staff of SIRC functionaries is led by a five-member civilian board of part-time appointees. Typically the appointees are lawyers or politicians, but they can also be ordinary citizens.

Because SIRC has failed to make many significant criticisms of CSIS of late, critics argue it is failing to exercise the aggressive review necessary to safeguard civil liberties.

Mr. Harper said he will begin the process for appointing a new chair shortly. Dr. Porter will remain a member of the Queen’s Privy Council of Canada, a lifelong title bestowed upon him by the Prime Minister when he was first appointed a SIRC board member in 2008.

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