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A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A civil liberties group is objecting to Canada's spy watchdog assigning Yves Fortier to investigate alleged spying on environmental activists, citing a conflict due to his former petroleum industry ties.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association's lawyer has written to the Security Intelligence Review Committee asking that Fortier "recuse himself from any participation" in the matter since he once sat on the board of TransCanada Pipelines — the company behind the Keystone XL project.

Fortier, one of three review committee members, was recently appointed to lead an investigation into the association's complaint that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service gathered and shared information about activists opposed to Canada's energy policies.

The association filed the complaint with the review committee in February after media reports suggested that CSIS and other government agencies consider protests and opposition to the petroleum industry as possible threats to national security.

The complaint also cited reports that CSIS had worked with and shared information with the National Energy Board about so-called "radicalized environmentalist" groups seeking to participate in the board's hearings on Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline project, which would see Alberta crude flow to westward to Kitimat, B.C.

The groups included Leadnow, ForestEthics Advocacy Association, the Council of Canadians, the Dogwood Initiative, EcoSociety, the Sierra Club of British Columbia and Idle No More, the indigenous rights movement.

"None of these groups are criminal organizations, nor do they have any history of advocating, encouraging, or participating in criminal activity," says the Feb. 6 complaint.

The CSIS Act is clear that "lawful advocacy, protest or dissent" cannot be regarded as threats to national security, the complaint adds.

Former cabinet minister Chuck Strahl stepped down as chairman of the review committee earlier this year after it was revealed he had registered as a lobbyist on behalf of Enbridge's Northern Gateway project.

The complaint says while Strahl "had done the right thing," remaining review committee members with current or past ties to the petroleum industry — namely Fortier and Denis Losier, who sat on the board of Enbridge NB — should not be involved in the matter. (Losier has since left the committee.)

Paul Champ, a lawyer for the civil liberties association, says a copy of the complaint was sent to CSIS director Michel Coulombe but no reply was received.

Earlier this month, the review committee informed Champ that Fortier had been assigned to the complaint.

Fortier, an accomplished lawyer and former ambassador to the United Nations, has served as a director for many Canadian corporations. He was appointed to the review committee in August 2013.

Fortier's assignment to the civil liberties association's complaint prompted a Sept. 25 letter from Champ to the committee reiterating the B.C. group's position that despite Fortier's "exemplary reputation," his involvement creates an appearance of bias.

"Indeed, he is clearly a Canadian of extraordinary accomplishment and rectitude who has made significant contributions to Canada," the letter says.

"Still, the BCCLA submits that this is a highly serious complaint and should be handled in a manner that is in every way beyond reproach, with justice not only done, but seen to be done."

Josh Paterson, executive director of the civil liberties association, said he hopes the review committee "will consider it very carefully, and that Mr. Fortier might decide to step back from this one."

The review committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Aside from Fortier, the other current review committee members are Gene McLean, a private security specialist, and Deborah Grey, a former MP who is serving as interim chairwoman.

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