Canada spies denied warrant to collect intelligence abroad

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s request to spy outside of Canada has been denied due to the law that states that investigations can be carried out only within the country.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s request to spy outside of Canada has been denied due to the law that states that investigations can be carried out only within the country.PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA (AFP) - The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) cannot spy outside of Canada unless national security is clearly at risk, a federal court judge ruled, denying the agency a warrant to do so.

CSIS had asked for a warrant to collect intelligence related to an unidentified foreign state, according to a case summary published by the Ottawa court and seen by AFP on Friday (July 20).

That request was necessary as the law states that the agency can carry out foreign intelligence investigations, but only within Canada. However, the agency's request to extend its reach was denied.

"I am not permitted to grant warrants for extraterritorial activities when Parliament has clearly not given me the power under my warrant jurisdiction to do so," Judge Simon Noel wrote in his decision on Wednesday, available online but heavily redacted.

"The geographical limitation's purpose was to bar the Service from conducting CIA-like controversially aggressive 'covert' and 'offensive' activities abroad," he wrote.

Judge Noel refused the request despite Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould encouraging the authorisation.

He observed that the geographical limitation aimed to "mitigate the political, diplomatic and moral risk of conducting foreign intelligence collection, which had the potential to breach international law, foreign domestic law and bring disrepute to Canada's international reputation and defense policies."

"It is Parliament, not a court of law, that should be tasked with determining these multifaceted policy questions that have an impact far beyond our borders," he concluded.

"CSIS and the government of Canada are assessing the impact of the decision and carefully studying all options," intelligence service spokeswoman Tahera Mufti told AFP.

Mufti refused to identify the foreign state in question, citing "reasons of national security and confidentiality."

This is the second federal court ruling related to CSIS in less than three years.

In November 2016, it declared the agency's collection of excessive citizen data without a precise national security concern was illegal.

Canada, along with the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, is part of the "Five Eyes" intelligence services alliance.

Ex-National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden's 2013 leak of documents showed members intentionally spied on citizens of allied countries and shared this information to circumvent laws barring countries from wiretapping their own citizens.