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Police club a crowd of activists during a protest at the G20 Summit in Toronto in 2010.

DARREN CALABRESE/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Did Canada's security or intelligence agencies help the American National Security Agency to spy on Canadians, as well as on foreign leaders and diplomats visiting Toronto during the 2010 G20 meetings? According to documents from NSA contractor Edward Snowden, obtained by the CBC, that's what happened. Part of what is alleged to have been done was foolish. Some of it may even have been illegal.

Everyone involved in the G20 had an obvious and legitimate interest in security. World leaders were visiting Canada. Whatever may be the most effective division of labour among the security agencies of the United States, Canada and other G20 countries – as well as legal issues of territorial jurisdiction, and diplomatic etiquette – the participating states were all worried about the safety of their officials. Violent protests were expected, and violent protests there were.

One passage of the NSA documents, however, refers to electronic snooping being jointly done by Canadians and Americans for the purpose of "providing support for policy-makers." Is this true? And if so, what Canadian organization was involved? Was the Communications Security Establishment Canada, the Canadian counterpart to the NSA, spying on our G20 guests, foreign governments visiting Toronto? Were they spying on Canadians?

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John Foster, chief of CSEC, on Thursday answered reporters' questions with a primer on the law. By law, he said, CSEC "cannot target Canadians anywhere in the world or anyone in Canada. Including visitors to Canada... To do otherwise would be against the law. Further, we cannot ask our allies to do any kind of operations that we ourselves are not permitted to do under law."

So we know what should not have happened at the G20: CSEC, with or without its U.S. friends, should not have been spying on anyone, whether foreign guests or domestic protesters. And if CSEC was not involved, what about other branches of government? That question remains unanswered.

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