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CSIS is about to become more ‘kinetic.’ Bad idea

A vehicle passes a sign outside the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) headquarters in Ottawa November 5, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie (CANADA - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

In the bad old days, before there was CSIS, the RCMP did some dangerously goofy things, such as burning down a barn that belonged to an FLQ terrorist's mother.

In contrast, the "I" for "intelligence" in CSIS was meant to say the new agency would only gather information. It would not, for example, try to discredit radicals by employing agents provocateurs.

Professors Kent Roach and Craig Forcese of the University of Toronto and the University of Ottawa respectively are right to worry about Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, and specifically about some of the bill's alarmingly vague wording.

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If the bill become law, CSIS agents may take "measures" to reduce threats; whatever those measures might be, they would go well beyond the collecting of intelligence.

Mr. Roach and Mr. Forcese call these ostensibly threat-reducing measures "kinetic operations" based on a "kinetic power." The word "kinetic" means "having to do with motion." In other words, CSIS is being turned into something other than a government department designed to just observe.

Bill C-51 does require CSIS agents to get the authorization of a judge each time they want to use any of these new, dynamic "measures." But the judges will not be working with long-standing law and criteria when they consider such warrants. The whole context is altered from normal searches for guns and other familiar types of evidence, or electronic interception of common criminals' phone calls – to international politics and religious radicalism.

Mr. Roach and Mr. Forcese have good reason to be concerned. Back in the 1970s, the federal cabinet authorized the Mounties to "deter, prevent and counter individuals and groups" that might be subversive – a role in which they performed clumsily.

The government has spoken of judicially authorized warrants to engage in "disruption," without elaborating on what that means. It's not a stretch to imagine CSIS agents playing James Bond (though without the violation of individuals' sexual integrity, specifically prohibited in the bill), or engaging in provocateur activities and sabotage of computers. It suggests a broad new mandate, of questionable utility or legality.

The new kinetic CSIS could turn out to be the old political RCMP under a new name.

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