Arthur Porter joined Canada's intelligence watchdog after cultivating his contacts in Conservative circles, but with a minimal security clearance that paled in comparison to background checks he had faced in the United States, according to his new autobiography.
Dr. Porter, currently fighting extradition to Canada on fraud charges while in a Panamanian cell, was approached by the Prime Minister's Office in 2008 to sit on the Security Intelligence Review Committee. He quit in a cloud of controversy in 2011, with the opposition raising questions about his ability to access sensitive federal information, given his checkered past and his questionable international business activities.
In his book, Dr. Porter said he went through a "full-field" security clearance process in the U.S. a few years earlier in relation to a position with the U.S. department of health. He added he was surprised at the lack of due diligence to work at SIRC, a body that oversees the classified activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
"The Canadian screening process was far less rigorous," Dr. Porter said in The Man Behind the Bow Tie, an autobiography co-written with Ottawa reporter T.R. Todd.
"I did not have conversations with members of CSIS. Nobody came to my home. Whether extensive investigations occurred in the background, I don't know. I certainly never heard of it," he said.
The Prime Minister's Office did not respond to requests for comment.
Dr. Porter relished his contacts with government officials and his title as a privy councillor when he joined SIRC in 2008, and became chair in 2010. "I was now the Honourable Arthur Porter. I received a heightened security clearance. When I die, the flag flying above Parliament will be brought to half-mast."
A copy of Dr. Porter's book, to be released next week, was sent to The Globe and Mail. It provides new insight into his controversial positions in Ottawa and Montreal, where he ran the McGill University Health Centre from 2004 to 2011, as well as his ties to engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.
Last year, Dr. Porter was charged with fraud and accepting bribes in relation to his work at McGill, where he had been the chief negotiator on the $1.3-billion contract to build a new hospital with a consortium involving SNC-Lavalin.
In his book, he revealed that he got in a contractual relationship with SNC-Lavalin in 2005, to work with the firm's international division, with a promise to start only after the hospital project got off the ground. Still, he said that between 2005 and 2010, he did unpaid work on the firm's behalf, while denying that he favoured SNC-Lavalin's interests at McGill during that period.
Born in Sierra Leone, Dr. Porter said he helped SNC-Lavalin's interests in Africa over the years, including in Libya where the firm enjoyed tight connections with the Gadhafi family.
"I think people often muddled SNC-Lavalin's strong interest in my international skills with its bid for the hospital contract. It was an unfortunate misperception," he said.
Dr. Porter developed a friendship during his time at McGill with Philippe Couillard, who was Quebec's health minister and is now Premier and Quebec Liberal Leader.
"There was a period when Couillard called me every day, asking what I thought about this issue or that decision," Dr. Porter said. "He craved approval, I realized. Couillard wanted to be told that he was doing a good job."
Mr. Couillard has since distanced himself from Dr. Porter, stating the company that they jointly created never got off the ground.
(A spokesperson for SNC-Lavalin said the company had launched an internal investigation into the allegations but could not confirm that Dr. Poter had ever had any such contract with the company.)
When he worked in Montreal, Dr. Porter said he regularly drove to Ottawa where he went for drinks at Hy's Steakhouse to mingle with "the Conservative brain trust," and participated in fundraisers and other partisan activities. He said he was close with former Conservative senator David Angus, and said he got to know Conservative ministers such as Tony Clement.
Dr. Porter said that in 2009, he was enlisted by the government to help Canada's bid to win a seat on the United Nations security council by lobbying developing countries, especially in Africa. The Canadian bid failed in 2010.
Over all, Dr. Porter said his downfall is linked to a simple fact: "I never met a deal I did not like. The challenge was in making it work, and I enjoyed the buzz of wrangling and negotiation."