CSIS looks to pro­tect spies

Feds move to shield iden­ti­ties of agents set to tes­tify in Ab­del­razik case

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - ONTARIO NEWS - JIM BRON­SKILL

OT­TAWA — Canada’s spy agency wants to shield the iden­ti­ties of five cur­rent and for­mer em­ploy­ees from the pub­lic when they tes­tify in the law­suit of a Montreal man who was de­tained in Su­dan — prompt­ing ve­he­ment ob­jec­tions from the man’s lawyer.

In newly filed court doc­u­ments, fed­eral lawyers say the Cana­dian Se­cu­rity In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice iden­ti­ties must be kept con­fi­den­tial in or­der to pro­tect the in­di­vid­u­als from per­sonal harm and to en­sure the ser­vice can con­tinue to work ef­fec­tively.

It is the lat­est le­gal spat in the long-run­ning case of Abous­fian Ab­del­razik, who is su­ing the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment for an apol­ogy and com­pen­sa­tion over his lengthy over­seas de­ten­tion.

Ab­del­razik, 56, ar­rived in Canada from Africa as a refugee in 1990. He be­came a Cana­dian cit­i­zen five years later.

He was ar­rested dur­ing a 2003 visit to Su­dan to see fam­ily. In cus­tody, Ab­del­razik was in­ter­ro­gated by CSIS about sus­pected ex­trem­ist links. He claims he was tor­tured by Su­danese in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials dur­ing two pe­ri­ods of de­ten­tion, though Canada says it knew noth­ing of the pur­ported abuse.

Ab­del­razik de­nies any in­volve­ment in ter­ror­ism, and civil pro­ceed­ings against the gov­ern­ment are slated to be­gin Mon­day in the Fed­eral Court of Canada.

The fed­eral lawyers, backed by an af­fi­davit from a se­nior CSIS of­fi­cial, are ask­ing the Fed­eral Court for an or­der that will per­mit the spy ser­vice wit­nesses to tes­tify in open court while en­sur­ing their names and phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance are kept from the pub­lic, Ab­del­razik and his coun­sel.

All five em­ploy­ees have “worked in a covert op­er­a­tional ca­pac­ity” and di­vulging their iden­ti­ties would put them at risk of per­sonal harm, given the threats that are fre­quently made against the ser­vice and its em­ploy­ees, the fed­eral sub­mis­sion says.

The gov­ern­ment pro­poses the five “pro­tected wit­nesses” be al­lowed to en­ter and leave the court­room via a spe­cial en­trance, take an oath in a sep­a­rate room and tes­tify while hidden by a screen or through video­con­fer­ence in a man­ner that ob­scures their faces.

The wit­nesses would pro­vide their real names in writ­ing to the judge and the re­quired court staff prior to tes­ti­fy­ing.

In their sub­mis­sion, fed­eral lawyers say the ar­range­ment “strikes an ap­pro­pri­ate bal­ance” be­tween the tra­di­tional tenet of open court pro­ceed­ings and the need to main­tain se­crecy. “The open court prin­ci­ple is not ab­so­lute, and must, in ap­pro­pri­ate cases, be lim­ited for rea­sons of na­tional se­cu­rity, the safety of in­di­vid­u­als, and the proper ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice.”

Ab­del­razik’s lawyer, Paul Champ, calls the fed­eral re­quest “a gross over­reach.”

“In some cases the iden­tity of un­der­cover po­lice of­fi­cers are pro­tected, but it’s only for a lim­ited pe­riod and with ev­i­dence of a spe­cific dan­ger or threat. There is none of that here. And why should CSIS get more pro­tec­tion than the po­lice?” Champ said.

“There needs to be ac­count­abil­ity and those re­spon­si­ble should not be al­lowed to hide in the shad­ows.”

He plans to file writ­ten ar­gu­ments with the court op­pos­ing the con­fi­den­tial­ity de­mands later this week. This dis­agree­ment is not ex­pected to de­lay the trial as the wit­nesses are not sched­uled to ap­pear for sev­eral weeks.

The fed­eral sub­mis­sion notes the CSIS Act makes it an of­fence to name an em­ployee “who was, is or is likely to be­come en­gaged in covert op­er­a­tional ac­tiv­i­ties” of the ser­vice.

Se­nior CSIS per­son­nel who ap­pear in pub­lic fo­rums are typ­i­cally iden­ti­fied pub­licly. Cur­rent CSIS di­rec­tor David Vigneault is ex­pected to tes­tify openly at the Ab­del­razik trial.

How­ever, fed­eral lawyers con­tend the five other wit­nesses in ques­tion must be shielded given the threats to in­tel­li­gence per­son­nel posed by ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant and hos­tile in­tel­li­gence look­ing to ex­ploit such op­por­tu­ni­ties.

They also cite the re­cent Bri­tish charges against two al­leged Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers in re­la­tion to the at­tempted mur­der of dou­ble agent Sergei Skri­pal, his daugh­ter and a po­lice of­fi­cer with a mil­i­tary-grade nerve agent.

Threats against CSIS per­son­nel have also come from in­di­vid­u­als en­coun­tered dur­ing spy ser­vice in­ves­ti­ga­tions, says the af­fi­davit from the se­nior spy ser­vice of­fi­cial, iden­ti­fied only as “David” in keep­ing with the agency’s ar­gu­ments for anonymity.

“These have in­cluded threats ut­tered dur­ing in­ter­views, pro­jec­tiles thrown at cars, be­ing ap­proached with weapons and re­ceiv­ing threat­en­ing voice mes­sages,” says the af­fi­davit.

Why should CSIS get more pro­tec­tion than the po­lice?” Paul Champ, Abous­fian Ab­del­razik’s lawyer

SEAN KIL­PATRICK/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Abous­fian Ab­del­razik is shown in Ot­tawa, Ont., in 2010. Canada’s spy agency wants to shield the iden­ti­ties of five cur­rent and for­mer em­ploy­ees from the pub­lic when they tes­tify in the law­suit of a Montreal man who was de­tained in Su­dan — prompt­ing ve­he­ment ob­jec­tions from the man’s lawyer.

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