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CSIS director's future in doubt as politicians decry remarks

Richard Fadden, CSIS director at Citizen and Immigation Committee in Ottawa June 9, 2009.

Bill Grimshaw/bill grimshaw The Globe and Mail

Canada's outspoken spy chief has unleashed a political furor by saying that a number of politicians are influenced by foreign states, comments that left his critics wondering whether he will survive as head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Calling the charges by Richard Fadden "unprecedented and completely unprofessional," B.C Premier Gordon Campbell said the spy agency smeared lawmakers as beholden to foreign governments. "To cast a shadow of doubt across municipal politicians or provincial cabinet ministers without so much as a shred of substantial evidence I have seen, or anyone else has seen, is simply not acceptable in Canada," Mr. Campbell said Wednesday.

The Ontario and Saskatchewan Premiers, and several Western Canadian mayors, uttered similar criticisms.

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The CSIS director made televised comments on CBC Tuesday, saying that two unnamed provincial cabinet ministers and a number of other government officials and employees are under the influence of foreign countries.

The Fadden controversy erupted during a week when the world's eyes are on Canada for the G8 and G20 summits, and as Prime Minister Stephen Harper flew to Toronto to apologize for CSIS-RCMP failings on the 25th anniversary of Canada's greatest terrorist attack. Last week, a judge recommended sweeping security changes, after faulting CSIS and other agencies for bungling the probe into the 1985 Air India bombings.

It also occurred as Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in Ontario Wednesday to prepare for the G20 summit. Mr. Hu was accompanied by one of the highest-level delegations ever to come to Canada, which includes four deputy premiers and five ministers.

In the CBC interview broadcast Tuesday night, Mr. Fadden suggested that hostile foreign entities - possibly Chinese ones - had infiltrated Canadian politics.

A career mandarin appointed to run Canada's spy agency a year ago, Mr. Fadden made his media debut by talking about how foreign interference was a real problem. He said he had advised Ottawa's "centre" of certain problematic politicians.

He backtracked in a written clarification Wednesday. "I have not apprised the Privy Council Office of the cases I mentioned in the interview on CBC," he said, adding that "CSIS has not deemed the cases to be of sufficient concern to bring them to the attention of provincial authorities."

The retreat led MP Mark Holland, Liberal national-security critic, to say that if what Mr. Fadden has said is true about not advising his political masters, "then he's got to go and he has to go immediately." University of Toronto professor Wesley Wark, a frequent commentator on national security, called the remarks "a grievous misjudgment and a firing offence."

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A spokesman for the Prime Minister said no one has requested any resignation. And some insiders argue Mr. Fadden merely expressed - albeit more pointedly - what has worried CSIS for years. "I was surprised to hear his comments - not what he said, but that he said it," said Robert Simmonds, past RCMP commissioner.

The timing of the CBC interview was not Mr. Fadden's choice. This spring, CBC approached him to repeat remarks he had made at a private, but videotaped, speech at the Royal Canadian Military Institute. The public broadcaster kept the interview in its back pocket until it broadcast the exclusive this week.

Mr. Fadden arrived at CSIS with an eye to reshaping the public debate on national security. He once said Canadians "would all benefit from a more nuanced debate worthy of a G8 country."

His remarks clearly stunned municipal and provincial politicians and detracted from the federal focus on the summits. The international implications are not yet known. In the absence of any discernible protest from the Chinese, the government appears intent on ignoring Mr. Fadden's comments and hoping that the controversy fades away.

On Wednesday, however, a newspaper tied to a Chinese dissident group, the Falun Gong, released an audiotape alleging Chinese embassy officials are paying pro-China protesters to shout down any anti-Beijing criticisms uttered. Such activities cause CSIS worries, given its mandate to guard against foreign powers who seek to clandestinely steal secrets, quell dissent, or influence politics.

Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Fadden made the case openly. "We're in fact a bit worried in a couple of provinces that we have an indication there are some political figures who have developed quite an attachment to foreign countries," he told the CBC.

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With files from Karen Howlett, Greg McArthur, Siri Agrell and Michael Posner

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About the Authors
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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