Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government will learn this summer which provincial cabinet ministers and municipal councillors have been watched for two years by Canada's spy agency over worries they are under the influence of foreign governments.
Richard Fadden, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, will deliver the political headache within four weeks in a formal briefing to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
When that happens, the federal cabinet will face the same questions that have dogged Mr. Fadden since, by his own admission, he went too far in describing what CSIS has been up to in countering foreign espionage.
In an interview broadcast last month, Mr. Fadden said CSIS believes that at least two provincial cabinet ministers and several B.C. municipal politicians "are under at least the general influence of a foreign government."
What provinces? Which ministers? Which B.C. municipalities?
Mr. Fadden declined to answer any of those questions on Monday in an appearance before a special summer sitting of the House of Commons public safety committee. He said CSIS will provide the government with the details in a formal briefing "very, very shortly."
"I will name them … to the government," Mr. Fadden said in response to questions from MPs.
Mr. Toews's office isn't saying how Ottawa will handle the highly sensitive information, declining comment on "operational security matters related to CSIS."
While that may be standard practice, Mr. Fadden's slip-up means politicians across the country know about the case and are demanding details in order to lift the cloud of suspicion some feel now hangs over their heads.
"CSIS has an obligation to Canadians to come forward with more information and evidence to substantiate the claims made," said a senior Ontario government official.
Already there are calls for Ottawa to make Mr. Fadden's information public, but carefully.
"If there is enough information in that report that there is a concern for public safety and security, that information needs to be made public and charges need to be laid. ... Those people should be brought to justice if there has been espionage of any sort," said Vancouver city councillor Raymond Louie, a Chinese-Canadian who was born and raised in East Vancouver.
"Unless there is solid information against individuals, then they had better tread carefully about making statements about people that aren't substantiated."
The CSIS director did confirm that in early 2010, he gave the Privy Council Office a heads-up on the case via a conversation with the Prime Minister's national security advisor, Marie-Lucie Morin.
"I said I had a couple of cases that I was worried about," Mr. Fadden told MPs. Since the cases involved the provinces, he said, he sought the government's advice "on how we would go about informing the provinces because it's not something we've had occasion to do."
When asked by the committee when CSIS began investigating the relationship between foreign governments and Canadian politicians, Mr. Fadden said it started "a couple of years ago."
The committee summoned Mr. Fadden to explain himself after his remarks about foreign influence over Canadian politicians, which he made during a CBC interview as part of a larger feature on CSIS and its 25th anniversary, sparked controversy across the country.
Mr. Fadden told MPs he will not offer his resignation and said he sees no need to apologize to the Chinese-Canadian community for suggesting China was one of the foreign governments involved.
Bloc Québécois and New Democrat MPs on the committee were the most forceful in their criticism, calling on Mr. Fadden to resign. New Democrat Don Davies pointed out that the 1,600 municipal politicians in British Columbia have written a complaint letter over the director's remarks.
"You have smeared them all," Mr. Davies said.
"The reason I gave the two examples was to try and illustrate the nature of the problem that we have," Mr. Fadden replied. "If I had simply said, 'There is foreign interference in Canada,' you, ladies and gentlemen, would be all at your holidays right now. The point would not have been made. I repeat again, I regret the level of granularity and it will not happen again."
With reports from Adam Radwanski in Toronto and Rhéal Séguin in Quebec City
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