Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to say Sunday whether Ottawa granted asylum to a former operative of Canada‘s spy service after he was freed from a Turkish prison last month for trafficking three underaged British schoolgirls to Islamic State militants.
Mr. Trudeau suggested, however, that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service would not have been allowed to run a double agent who engaged in the smuggling of minors under new rules brought in by his government in 2017.
The Globe and Mail reported Friday, citing a source with direct knowledge of the matter, that CSIS informant Mohammed al-Rashed was released from a Turkish prison on Aug. 5 after serving seven years for terrorism and human smuggling, including trafficking the trio of British schoolgirls, aged 15 and 16 at the time. The source said CSIS had planned to relocate its former agent to Canada in August.
The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to discuss national-security matters involving the federal government.
”I cannot comment on operational matters,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters in London, where he is attending Queen Elizabeth‘s funeral. But he said that his government ”significantly strengthened“ the rules and directives for CSIS to prevent its agents from involvement in illegal activities.
“In 2015, we made a commitment to Canadians. We would both strengthen the rules around CSIS operations, around national-security operations, and bring in stronger oversight that makes sure that we are ensuring that CSIS is always following those rules,” he said. “Canadians need to have confidence that even as we do what is necessary to protect national security, we are abiding by Canadian rules and principles.”
In 2017, the government introduced the National Security Act to bolster civilian oversight of CSIS. The changes include the creation of a National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, an independent body that reports to Parliament. Its role is to ensure that the activities of CSIS and other federal intelligence agencies are lawful, reasonable and necessary.
The government also set up the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, which reports to the Prime Minister’s Office but conducts reviews of intelligence matters – usually in secret sessions.
On Friday, Conservative national-security critic Raquel Dancho demanded that the government say whether Mr. al-Rashed is in Canada, calling him a ”dangerous ISIS child trafficker,” who should not be given asylum.
Mr. al-Rashed was recruited by CSIS in 2013, and was arrested in Turkey in 2015. Turkish intelligence discovered that he smuggled 16-year-old Kadiza Sultana, 15-year-old Amira Abase and 15-year-old Shamima Begum into Syria. Two of the girls are now believed to be dead, while Ms. Begum was stripped of her British citizenship in 2019 and languishes in a Kurdish prison.
Mr. al-Rashed told Turkish intelligence in 2015 that he was promised asylum in Canada for providing intelligence to CSIS. British author Richard Kerbaj, in his new book The Secret History of the Five Eyes, said CSIS withheld information about Mr. al-Rashed’s role in trafficking the teens from British authorities, even though they were frantically trying to find the missing girls.
After Mr. al-Rashed was arrested in Turkey, Mr. Kerbaj said in his book that CSIS approached the head of British counterterrorism in an effort to cover up and obscure the agency’s role in recruiting the Syrian human smuggler.
Former CSIS agent Huda Mukbil, who handled informants for the spy agency, said Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino would have had to approve and sign documents permitting the entry of Mr. al-Rashed to Canada. Like the Prime Minister, Mr. Mendicino has declined to discuss the case of the former CSIS operative. CSIS also declined to say if Mr. al-Rashed is in Canada, nor would it talk about the alleged cover-up of Mr. al-Rashed’s trafficking of the schoolgirls.
Ms. Mukbil, who left CSIS in 2017 after 15 years operating agents, said there needs to be an independent inquiry into how the spy agency handles an agent who thought it was okay to traffic minors to Islamic terrorists.
Ms. Mukbil said CSIS should have cut Mr. al-Rashed loose as soon as it found out he had smuggled the schoolgirls into Syria.
”If he is in Canada, CSIS is now deeper into this scandal. Al-Rashed made a choice and should be held accountable,“ she said. ”CSIS should also be held accountable and not be given the opportunity to hide al-Rashed away from the media to protect its tradecraft and methodology. That would add salt to injury and put into question ethical and legal obligations in CSIS operations.”
Ms. Mukbil, author of Agent of Change: My Life Fighting Terrorists, Spies and Institutional Racism, said an impartial inquiry should be held before a British court hears an appeal in November by lawyers for Ms. Begum to restore her citizenship and repatriate her. Her three children have died in the Kurdish prison, according to her British lawyer Tasnime Akunjee.
“I know without doubt that this level of scrutiny will strengthen our national institutions including CSIS, making the organization better equipped to run successful operations in the future, and to maintain the confidence of our allies and the public,” Ms. Mukbil said.
The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group has called on the House of Commons public safety committee to hold a special session to demand answers from CSIS and Mr. Mendicino.
With a report from Marieke Walsh