The federal government will entrust a new committee of parliamentarians with high-level national-security secrets, while cautioning members that any breach or leak would be a crime deserving of jail time.
The bill to create the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians will be tabled in the House of Commons as early as Thursday. The Liberals promised during the last election campaign to create a body offering legislative, non-partisan oversight of Canada's security agencies as new anti-terrorism measures are put to use.
Sources said the committee will be composed of a small number of MPs from the major parties and at least one senator, to be served by at least one professional staff member.
Everyone involved will swear an oath of secrecy, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters ahead of the tabling of the legislation that will create the permanent committee.
The committee was inspired by a number of foreign models, especially the nine-member Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament in Britain.
Mr. Goodale added that he does not want a system like the one in the U.S. Congress, which is prone to leaks.
"[Members of the committee] will have to swear an oath with respect to the information that they obtain, and violation of that oath is a criminal offence and a breach of trust," he said. "Illegally, improperly divulging information that is contrary to the national security of Canada is a serious criminal offence."
The committee will have "extraordinary authority to examine all of the security and intelligence operations of the government of Canada," with access to classified information from agencies such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP, Mr. Goodale said.
The goal of the committee will be to reassure other parliamentarians and Canadians that the security agencies are "doing what they need to do to keep Canadians safe," but also that they are "safeguarding the values and the rights and freedoms of Canadians."
The committee is expected to be provided with frequent briefings, although it remains unknown if members will receive information ahead of operations or will be consulted on actions to be taken by national security agencies.
Creating the parliamentary committee is only one of a number of current legislative initiatives overseen by Public Safety Canada, which tabled legislation on Wednesday to log information on all Canadians leaving the country.
The legislation aims to plug a hole in Canada's security apparatus in which authorities have been unaware when people of interest left the country at land crossings.
The new system will allow U.S. authorities to log information on Canadians entering the country and send back basic biographical information to the Canadian government.
Mr. Goodale said the information will be available for use by a number of federal agencies, in addition to those in charge of security. For example, the data on Canadians leaving the country could be used to track abuses of employment insurance or health-care benefits.
"Where there is fraud, where payments are being obtained in ways that are not justified or approved by the programs themselves, then taxpayers would expect that the programs' terms and conditions will be enforced," Mr. Goodale said in the foyer of the House of Commons after the legislation on exit controls was tabled.
He predicted that the new system will help the government save tens of millions of dollars a year.
Canada is the only member of the "Five Eyes" group of countries with integrated intelligence services, which also includes the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, that does not keep a record of its own citizens' foreign travel.
The lack of exit controls has exposed instances in which Canada failed to track when citizens who joined terrorist groups, for example, had left the country.
"There is a significant information gap in Canada's system at the present time," Mr. Goodale said. "We ask all sorts of questions to people coming into the country, but there is no record of people leaving the country."
With a report from Robert Fife