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The federal government has appointed outgoing NDP MP Murray Rankin as the inaugural chair of the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, a new watchdog for overseeing national-security activities.

The agency was created under an omnibus national-security bill that received royal assent last June. It will oversee the government’s security decisions while ensuring that authorities don’t infringe on the rights and freedoms of Canadians, Mr. Rankin said.

He said protecting the security of Canadians and safeguarding their rights are equally important parts of the agency’s mandate.

“One of our jobs is to advise the government on the extent to which [federal] agencies are properly and reasonably using the powers which have been given to them,” he said.

The nine-part omnibus bill was a response to controversy caused by national security legislation Bill C-51, introduced by the Harper Conservatives in 2015. At the time, critics said the bill gave federal agencies power to collect and share too much information on Canadians. Then-opposition leader Justin Trudeau said, if elected, the Liberals would amend the legislation to provide more oversight to avoid abuse of power.

The NSIRA will provide additional oversight, with the ability to review any national security activities from a federal department. Members of the agency will have access to all government information, with the exception of information that is subject to the confidence of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, and will table annual reports in the House of Commons and the Senate.

“So we have to essentially, in my judgment, be the eyes and ears of Canadians on new powers and old powers that the agencies use – some of them more controversial than others,” Mr. Rankin said.

One of those controversial powers includes a mechanism allowing the federal Communications Security Establishment (CSE) to launch cyber-counterattacks, Mr. Rankin said. The power, also introduced in the omnibus bill, means the CSE can respond to attacks before they occur, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told The Globe and Mail last month. For example, the mechanism could be used to prevent a terrorist’s mobile phone from detonating a car bomb or to impede a terrorist’s ability to transfer information by obstructing communications infrastructure.

Mr. Rankin said he hopes the agency, and his appointment as chair, will give Canadians more confidence in the process.

“The fact that they appointed someone who has not been a part of the governing party, I think, is a powerful part of this change,” Mr. Rankin said.

He also said he’s excited about the talent on the committee, which includes Craig Forcese, a University of Ottawa professor who researches national security, and the four remaining members of the Security Intelligence Review Committee – Pierre Blais, Yves Fortier, Ian Holloway and Marie-Lucie Morin – who will serve for the remainder of their original terms.

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