Federal antiterrorism legislation could restart the rivalry between Mounties and spooks, experts warn.
“This is going to impede, not facilitate, any actions against terrorism because it’s going to reintroduce the turf wars between the RCMP and CSIS,” Reg Whitaker told the Straight in a phone interview.
Whitaker, the author of books on security and intelligence issues, recalled that it was noncooperation of the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that led to a failure to thwart the country’s worst terrorism incident. He was referring to the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 that killed 329 passengers and crew off the coast of Ireland, and the associated bombing deaths of two baggage handlers at Japan’s Narita airport. The adjunct University of Victoria professor served as an adviser to the commission of inquiry on the Air India tragedy.
According to Whitaker, Bill C-51 would grant CSIS certain police powers to disrupt terrorist threats, and this would intrude on the RCMP’s jurisdiction.
SFU criminologist Rob Gordon doesn’t think there was much love lost between the two agencies when CSIS was formed in 1984 to replace the discredited Security Service of the RCMP.
“I don’t think the rivalry has actually gone away,” Gordon told the Straight by phone. “What appears to have happened, I think, instead is that it has gone underground. So whatever frictions, tensions exist between these two organizations and their employees probably would not and have not seen the light of day for quite a while.”
Mike Larsen, a criminology instructor who teaches courses on national security and policing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, noted that Bill C-51 blurs the line between what the RCMP and CSIS are mandated to do.
“The whole idea [is] that CSIS’s work around matters of national security, if it reaches a threshold that is prosecutable, it’s supposed to be handed off to the RCMP, so there’s a division of labour there. And this muddies that,” Larsen told the Straight by phone. “This makes that more challenging to establish that clear distinction.”
Federal Liberals are supporting the Conservative government’s antiterrorism bill, which is now making its way through Parliament.