Postal union leaders, opposition MPs and civil libertarians are demanding Ottawa establish a public inquiry into a former agent's explosive allegations that Canada's spy service operated a "dirty tricks squad" that broke the law and invaded the privacy of Canadians.
Indeed, Alan Borovoy, the head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said Canadian Security Intelligence Service officials should be criminally prosecuted if they are found to have instructed agents to break the law.
The allegations of criminal wrongdoing by CSIS are particularly disturbing, intelligence sources said, because the agency was created out of the discredited remains of the RCMP Security Service, which was caught in a variety of dirty tricks including burning barns and stealing dynamite.
"I think some action is called for so the public can be satisfied just exactly what is happening, and what has happened and what the government is going to do about it," Mr. Borovoy said.
He was reacting to a Globe and Mail report yesterday, which detailed allegations by John Farrell, a former Canada Post investigator and CSIS agent, who said that CSIS ran a "dirty tricks" unit in Toronto that intercepted mail, broke into cars and set up front companies.
Mr. Farrell, a graduate of Simon Fraser University, said that some of the covert operations were authorized by Federal Court warrants, but others, such as a car break-in in 1995 to steal sensitive documents, were illegal. Mr. Farrell also said that he spied on union activists for Canada Post when he worked there.
CSIS and Canada Post spokesmen denied the allegations.
However, Dale Grant, national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, called on Solicitor-General Lawrence MacAuley to call a public inquiry immediately into Mr. Farrell's "explosive" allegations.
"The powers that CSIS and Canada Post have are being abused and used to monitor legal [union]activity," Mr. Grant said.
Mr. Grant was particularly incensed that CSIS has apparently hired people on contracts to intercept mail and contracted other top-secret covert operations to a private firm, Avada Consulting. Corporate searches show that the firm is operated by Alan Whitson, a former Mountie and director of investigations for Canada Post.
"This is just unbelievable," Mr. Grant said.
Citing national security concerns, CSIS and Canada Post officials refused to discuss their relationship with Avada Consulting or who bankrolls it.
Mr. Grant said the union membership had lost faith in CSIS's watchdog agency, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, to effectively monitor the spy service.
Conservative MP Peter MacKay also said Mr. Farrell's "shocking" allegations needed a public inquiry.
"It's very unsettling to think that CSIS operatives and officers are engaging in the 1950s-style of espionage against Canadian citizens."
Meanwhile, Mr. MacAuley vowed to get to the bottom of Mr. Farrell's allegations and why he was offered $6,000 by CSIS director Ward Elcock to, in part, dissuade him from launching a lawsuit to recover $50,000 he says the agency still owes him.
However, Mr. MacAuley said he was reluctant, at this time, to undertake a broad review of CSIS's operations despite a series of scandals at the spy service.
In the meantime, he said he planned to call Mr. Elcock to get a briefing on Mr. Farrell's connections with the service and to inquire about the spy chief's letter to the former agent offering $6,000.
In his letter last year, Mr. Elcock offered Mr. Farrell $6,000 for humanitarian reasons after he stopped working for CSIS. However, Mr. Farrell said he never got the money because CSIS agents later demanded that he sign a release. Eleven days ago he filed a $6,000 lawsuit in small-claims court in a last ditch bid to recover the money.
Mr. MacAuley said he was in the dark about Mr. Elcock's unusual letter.
Mr. Borovoy said Mr. Farrell's allegations were "most disturbing."
Particularly disturbing, he said, were the former CSIS agent's accusations that the spy service would intercept not just the mail of the target named in a warrant, but also neighbours' mail if the target lived in an apartment building.
This was done, Mr. Farrell explained, so that the target would not become suspicious if his or her bills arrived later than those of anyone else in the building.
Mr. Borovoy also called on Mr. MacAuley to direct the Security Intelligence Review Committee to issue a special report as soon as possible into Mr. Farrell's allegations and make it public.
Mr. Borovoy added that Mr. MacAuley should turn over the report and all relevant documents to provincial attorneys-general for their prosecutorial review and possible criminal charges.
"It is not enough to be verbally assured that CSIS doesn't break the law. There are serious allegations here that CSIS may have broken the law. It is for us to insist that a proper investigation be done," Mr. Borovoy said.
Inspector-General Maurice Archdeacon, who reports to the Solictor-General on CSIS's activities, said in an interview yesterday that Mr. Farrell's accusations were "very, very serious." He said he would contact SIRC to discuss the status of its investigations into Mr. Farrell's allegations.
Mr. Farrell first contacted SIRC last May about his allegations. He later met with a CSIS investigator at a Toronto hotel to discuss them. According to his lawyer, Ernest Rovet, SIRC has been slow to investigate.
SIRC has denied this.
York University professor and CSIS expert Reg Whitaker said Canadians should be concerned about Mr. Farrell's allegations. "There are some very weird and troubling questions that need to be resolved," he said.
Chief among them were allegations that Canada Post spied on postal union activists. "If true, this is truly scandalous."
He also expressed concern that CSIS had farmed out some of its covert operations, including intercepting mail, to a private firm. "Who precisely are they accountable to?"
Prof. Whitaker was also troubled by allegations of corrupt practices by senior CSIS managers, including the use of public funds to finance home renovations and additions. ALAN BOROVOY Head of Civil Liberties Association says CSIS officials should be prosecuted if they instructed their agents to break the law. PETER MACKAY Conservative MP describes agent's allegations as shocking '50s-style of espionage' against citizens, calls for public inquiry. WARD ELCOCK Director of CSIS, which has been under investigation inside and out for several of its covert operations in recent months. -** -**
The national president of CUPW is Dale Clark. Incorrect information appeared in an article yesterday. (Thursday, July 6, 2000, Page A2)