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Richard Fadden, CSIS director at Citizen and Immigation Committee in Ottawa June 9, 2009. (Bill Grimshaw For The Globe and Mail/Bill Grimshaw For The Globe and Mail)
Richard Fadden, CSIS director at Citizen and Immigation Committee in Ottawa June 9, 2009. (Bill Grimshaw For The Globe and Mail/Bill Grimshaw For The Globe and Mail)

CSIS boss to shed light on espionage allegations Add to ...

With high-ranking politicians allegedly under the "influence" of mysterious foreign agents, a too-chatty top spy giving on-camera interviews and a Prime Minister who appears to have been in the dark about it all, Canadians will get the next chapter in the country's home-grown summer tale of political intrigue and national security.

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Two weeks ago, Richard Fadden, the head of Canada's spy agency, told a television crew that two provincial cabinet ministers as well as municipal politicians in British Columbia were being influenced by foreign states. He didn't name names in the CBC interview, or even nations (though he did decline, when asked, to deny that China was the country in question.) His comments sparked outrage from all levels of elected officials, along with ethnic Canadians who felt smeared by association - and today, he will appear before another batch of politicians in Ottawa to explain himself.

Mr. Fadden, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, is scheduled to make a short statement on Monday and then field questions in an open-door session of the all-party Public Safety and National Security Committee. He can expect to be asked more specifically about his allegations - and how high he'd gone up in government to discuss them - and to justify why he made them public in the first place.

"By specifying no one, he has accused and smeared everyone. That is unacceptable," said Don Davies, the NDP MP from British Columbia who will chair the meeting. "He's tarred certain individuals and classes of people, and arguably ethnicities, and this is something he's going to have to account for."

In the CBC interview, Mr. Fadden suggested that he had advised key officials in Ottawa about his concerns. The next day, Mr. Fadden, who's been on the job for about 12 months, stepped back from those comments, saying in an official statement that CSIS regularly investigates "foreign interference" and has been doing so for years. The statement said that he had not "apprised the Privy Council office" of these specific cases and that the spy agency had not even deemed them "to be of sufficient concern to bring them to the attention of provincial authorities."

Commenting by e-mail yesterday, Conservative MP Dave MacKenzie, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Public Safety and a member of the committee, said: "Mr. Fadden has issued a statement which I think speaks for itself, and we look forward to hearing him at committee tomorrow."

But who knew about his concerns, who should have been told and certainly whether it's good spy practice to go public - those questions will shape today's committee meeting, though the star witness is not likely to be forthcoming on all of them in the two-hour time slot available. The committee, whose meeting was initially requested by the Liberals and agreed to by the Conservatives, also has the option of calling more witnesses or moving behind closed doors to hear more.

"It's going to take more than one meeting, it's going to take some dogged persistence here," predicted Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale. "In the short run, the most powerful tool will be public opinion. Something extraordinary was said, and not by some idle chatter somewhere. This was a definitive public pronouncement of official information."

It's also a controversy that extends beyond Parliament Hill - the allegations are felt at all three levels of government. Mr. Fadden's comments prompted immediate outrage from B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, who called the remarks "unprecedented and unprofessional."

At the committee meeting, Mr. Davies will table a letter from an umbrella group of municipal leaders in British Columbia, the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, expressing concern that the statements will have "significant repercussions" on municipal politicians in their communities and asking for a full retraction.

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