Organized Crime—Part II

Canada’s Latest National Security Threat

In last week’s edition of The Voice Magazine, I wrote about how organized crime might just be Canada’s greatest national security threat, and how it might be time for us to consider it so.  Organized crime is far too dangerous, and society’s safety is far too important, to ever give credence to any idea that suggests that we get rid of policing agencies or make it harder for them to do their job—because law and order are the two things that allow for Canada to be the Canada that the world knows and loves.  And while this “Canada” offers great promise, that promise is not guaranteed, and it can be snatched away from all of us at any moment.  So it is important to become familiar with organized crime, perhaps more so than any other national security issue, because of what is at stake.

Questions for NSIRA and NSICOP

The questions for the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) were along similar lines seeing that both of their mandates stated that they were federal level bodies mandated to review federal level activities and without ever mentioning anything at the provincial level.

The questions had to do with determining whether either organization was strictly bound to only exploring national security matters at the federal level and to what extent might there be cooperation across federal and provincial lines, whether classified matters that came by the way of either provincial and inter-provincial agencies and departments were accessible by either organization, whether there were any activities that required special permissions and authorizations from a Province’s Premier, whether there were provincial equivalents for either agency, and to what extent did they have the power to “pull the plug” on operations, or was their role that of an advisor and “pull the plug” decisions were to be relayed elsewhere.

In addition to these questions, I explained the angle of the question by highlighting the connection between hostile nations and organized crime to carry out third-party attacks, how the spilt along federal and provincial lines has historically slowed cooperation between the two levels of government, how organized crime activity often gets uncovered “by accident” and as a part of other investigations that are many levels beneath the federal level of policing, and by trying to get to the thinking behind deciding to preserve major operations and containing the harms that might arise out of those operations and expand onto unsuspecting Canadians.

Although I thought that there was little chance that we would hear from either of these federal bodies, both responded, and they did so in a manner that towered over the type of responses I have received while interacting with provincial stakeholders.

Hearing back from NSIRA

NSIRA responded to the question stating that it only had the authority to review national security or intelligence activities undertaken by federal departments and agencies and that its jurisdiction did not extend to activities undertaken by provincial entities.  The only way that any information that originated at the provincial level would make its way to NSIRA would be if there was cooperation between federal and provincial entities and if that information was in possession or under control of a federal entity, and if NSIRA determined that such information was relevant to a review.

NSIRA also mentioned that they were not aware of any agreements between the Prime Minister and Premiers on the issue of access to information at the provincial level.  Additionally, NSIRA did not reference any equivalent organizations, but stated that there were numerous law enforcement oversight and review boards and complaint commissions across provinces and municipalities.  Finally, NSIRA confirmed that it was capable of making recommendations that it considered appropriate, in course of its review, and these recommendations would either relate to a department’s compliance with the law and any applicable ministerial directions, and the reasonableness and necessity of a department’s exercise of its powers.

Hearing back from NSICOP

NSICOP’s response to the questions might have been the most thorough response I have received from any level of government, and it clearly articulated what NSICOP was and what it was not.

To begin, with regards to national security and intelligence activities, NSICOP highlighted Section 8(1) of the NSICOP Act which sets out NSICOP’s mandate, to review activities at the federal level, and stated that these reviews occurred in a holistic manner.  NSICOP referenced their 2019 review into foreign interference and how the Committee analyzed the threats of foreign interference to all of Canadian society (government, media, academic institutions, and diaspora communities) and the government’s response, which included an analysis of intergovernmental and interdepartmental collaboration.

When it came to the topic of unfettered access to any and all classified information, NSICOP highlighted, Section 13 of the NSICOP Act which stated that NSICOP’s right of access to information was limited to information that was under control of a federal department or agency.  NSICOP also highlighted a distinction between policing related to national security and intelligence issues since such issues fell under the federal policing mandate of the RCMP.  However, while there was the possibility for NSICOP to have access to any information that was shared with the RCMP by provincial, territorial, and municipal partners, it would not be the case if information was related to ongoing investigations that may lead to prosecutions.

Finally, NSICOP clarified that it was a review body and not an oversight committee and that resulted in them not having the power to “pull the plug” on any activities, but if anything was identified as problematic behaviour during a review, NSICOP could highlight the issue and make recommendations to address it in its report presented to the Prime Minister who in turn would submit them to Parliament.  Additionally, if NSICOP learned of activities that were carried out by a department or agency that may be unlawful, it was obligated to inform the appropriate Minister and the Attorney General of Canada as per 31.1 of the Act.

Inheriting the dream instead of living the nightmare

The promise of Canada can be summed up by a recent statement former President Bill Clinton made about how some places are such that they allow children to inherit the freedom to pursue their dreams instead of reliving their parents’ nightmares.  But that promise is not guaranteed, and it can be snatched away from all of us at any moment by organized crime.

What makes organized crime such a major threat is that its organized nature often allows it to go undetected, often until it is too late and after it has been able to gain influence and power.  It is precisely this influence and power that gets wielded over people that allows for criminal activities to persist, but if they were ever to seep into the “wrong place” the promise of Canada might be lost for good.

National security at the provincial level

A strong understanding of Canada’s history and everything it took to create a federation comprised of provinces and territories would make a person realize that it required major concessions along the lines of federal and provincial controls, where provinces had governance control over almost all of their affairs.  Once we come to that realization, we must ask ourselves about what Canada truly is if not just a collection of provinces and territories that agreed to move as one, seeing it was in the best interest of them all, and whether the complications brought about as a result of the splitting of federal and provincial powers makes sense when it comes to something as important as national security?

The only way to get to the bottom of that question would require connecting with provincial stakeholders like the Ontario Association of Police Chiefs and their committee regarding Intelligence and Organized Crime and exploring the effectiveness of Criminal Intelligence Service Ontario’s partnership between Ontario and policing agencies to address organized crime elements across the province and beyond.  And perhaps writing about it in next week’s edition of The Voice Magazine.