Mounties Brace For Bark From A New Watchdog
Date: Friday, November 10 2006
Nov. 9, 2006. 01:00 AM
Waiting just around the corner is the watchdog the RCMP fears. Now straining at the leash held by Justice Dennis O'Connor is a strange beast made necessary by bad policy and worse treatment of Maher Arar.
Two months after his first report ripped the RCMP for putting an innocent Canadian in harm's way, O'Connor is adding finishing touches on recommendations to make the famous — sometimes infamous — force publicly accountable. There isn't a shred of doubt he will tell Prime Minister Stephen Harper that spying is too intrusive to be left to spies.
Somehow that essential truth was forgotten or ignored in the post-9/11 scramble to make North Americans feel safe and, if they weren't, to insulate politicians from blame. Poorly conceived and hurriedly executed legislation pushed the RCMP back into the anti-terrorism front lines with predictable results for Arar as well as for one of the few remaining national icons.
O'Connor is now trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle. Along with restoring public confidence, Ontario's associate chief justice needs to find a structure strong enough to hold horsemen with a rogue history of breaking free of their political reins.
Irony of ironies, the model now under O'Connor's microscope is the one created the last time the RCMP was caught hiding abuse of power from its political masters. After yet another inquiry, the federal government created the civilian Canadian Security Intelligence Service along with an external, independent review committee with the power to open files and the duty to report its findings to Parliament.
Originally slow to reach speed, and occasionally imperfect, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) is nevertheless the most convincing compromise yet between defending national interests and protecting individual privacy.
It not only works, it would have rendered unnecessary the lengthy, costly O'Connor inquiry if only CSIS had been suspected of fingering Arar as an Islamic extremist to the U.S.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on November 10, 2006]