After months of inaction, the committee that watches over Canada's spy agency appears to be moving swiftly to renew its probe into allegations by a former agent that the agency broke the law and invaded the privacy of Canadians.
But John Farrell, the former Canadian Security Intelligence Service undercover agent who made the allegations, said the Security Intelligence Review Committee has expressed a renewed interest in pursuing the allegations of CSIS wrongdoing only because he recently went public with his explosive accusations.
"For months they [SIRC]did nothing and now, all of a sudden, I'm getting letters and phone calls asking when I can meet with them," Mr. Farrell said.
Last week, Mr. Farrell alleged that while working for the intelligence service from 1991 to early 1999, senior CSIS managers asked him to break the law and to intercept the mail of Canadians who were not the targets of national security probes.
He also alleged that senior intelligence officers renovated their homes at public expense, billeted their children at CSIS "observation homes" that should have been used to watch targets and that the agency contracted out the bulk of its mail intercepts and some other top-secret covert operations to a private firm run by a former Mountie.
Mr. Farrell said he was paid cash for his "professional services" and was offered $6,000 by CSIS director Ward Elcock for unnamed "humanitarian reasons" and in return for dropping a lawsuit against CSIS.
SIRC was first informed in May of 1999 about Mr. Farrell's allegations involving CSIS actions and that he was owed $50,000 by the intelligence service. Six months later, the watchdog committee informed Mr. Farrell that it would proceed with a probe. But Mr. Farrell heard nothing for months.
But two days after The Globe and Mail detailed his allegations in a front-page article, Mr. Farrell said he received several telephone calls from Sylvia MacKenzie, a lawyer and SIRC complaints officer. She wanted to meet with him immediately to discuss his allegations yet again, he said.
"In the space of 24 hours, she [Ms. MacKenzie]left me at least four messages on my answering machine," Mr. Farrell said. "She said she was prepared to fly down to Toronto to meet with me as soon as possible."
Ms. MacKenzie declined to comment on Mr. Farrell's complaint and referred all inquiries to the agency's press office. A SIRC spokeswoman said the agency's chairwoman, prominent Quebec lawyer Paule Gauthier, had "no further comment on any of the issues."
Mr. Farrell said he is convinced the new sense of urgency on SIRC's part was triggered by his decision to go public, rather than a commitment by the watchdog to ferret out the truth.
"I met with her [Ms. MacKenzie] I wrote them [SIRC]two letters detailing the allegations. I called asking about what was going on and not a damn word. Now, they're just trying to cover their butts," Mr. Farrell said.
Indeed, on June 29, just days after The Globe first approached SIRC for comment about Mr. Farrell's allegations, Susan Pollack, the agency's executive director, wrote the former agent a two-page letter acknowledging that there was "some confusion about the status" of his complaint.
Ms. Pollack asked Mr. Farrell to write SIRC a letter, no later than July 10, to make it clear if he wanted to pursue his complaint against CSIS.
"I trust that any ambiguity or misunderstanding that may exist can be clarified," Ms. Pollack said.
Mr. Farrell said he has told Ms. MacKenzie that he wants the committee to pursue his complaint and that he will meet with her in Toronto later this week. He added that he has approached a prominent Toronto lawyer to represent him in his dealings with SIRC to ensure that his rights and privileges under the CSIS Act are respected.
Mr. Farrell has asked SIRC to help cover his legal costs. According to Mr. Farrell, the agency is considering the request.