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Norman Spector

MPs 'blab' and governments are 'responsible for security' Add to ...

In 1984, the Trudeau government established the Security Intelligence Review Committee to oversee the operations of CSIS. In doing so, it joined other western countries in enacting special provisions to deal with security matters and intelligence-related material.

In other words, Parliament - albeit during a period of majority government - has already accepted the principle that MPs should not have access to sensitive national security material, particularly material that is gathered by and shared among our allies.

No one knows this better than Bob Rae, who has served on SIRC. And here, for the benefit of other MPs, was the Liberal government's rationale at the time as reported by CP:

Solicitor-General Robert Kaplan says he trusts ''a lot of members of Parliament on an individual basis'' but they should not be allowed to review actions of the new civilian security service because they might ''blab out'' details of operations.

''Parliamentarians have a duty to go public on what they know and that is the way in which they operate,'' he said on the CTV program Question Period broadcast yesterday. "But national security cannot be operated in a public forum. It will not work.

''It will lose the confidence of foreign intelligence agencies who give us a great deal of information in exchange for information we give them on the basis that it isn't all blown.''

Mr. Kaplan was asked directly if he was suggesting MPs ''would blab out details of operations.''

''Well, in some sense, they should,'' he replied. ''They should make their own decisions about what should be made public and what shouldn't.

''But the Government is responsible for maintaining national security. It isn't Parliament . . . that's not what people are elected to do.''

''They're elected to be a watchdog, to expose wrongdoing and so on - not to run a complicated, sensitive organization like a national security agency.''

The McDonald commission on RCMP wrongdoing recommended creation of the new civilian agency under a review committee of MPs and senators.

Legislation tabled in the House of Commons on Wednesday by Mr. Kaplan calls instead for a security intelligence review committee of three privy councillors who are not sitting MPs or senators.

Privy councillors include past and present Cabinet ministers and a handful of other prominent politicians.

''I trust a lot of members of Parliament on an individual basis and certainly I'm prepared to be very forthcoming with some on the basis of their being either privy councillors and bound by their oath or on the basis of what I know about them.

''But I think for Parliament itself to have the job of running the national security would be revolutionary and very risky because, you know, our national security is a very important, legitimate concern.''

He argued Parliament will be able to review the new security service because its annual report will be tabled in the House and a Commons committee will be able to investigate and question witnesses.

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