The former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has urged the commission investigating foreign election interference to push back against what he called an often overprotective national security culture.
“Things are classified more than they need to be,” Richard Fadden told the commission Wednesday.
“There is room to push because of this overprotection, this culture.”
Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue is investigating whether Beijing, Russia, India and other nations interfered in the past two elections, and how information about foreign interference flowed within the federal government. The inquiry was announced in the aftermath of media reports accusing China of meddling in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
But before it delves into questions of who knew what and when, it first needs to figure out how to talk about sensitive intelligence in public.
On Monday, a lawyer for the commission warned that most of the evidence received by the commission is classified — mostly at the top-secret level.
Fadden, who also served as the national security adviser to prime ministers Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, said much of the information the commission will be interested in deserves protection.
But, he added, there’s no advocate for openness within the system.
“The culture, the workload and the tradition in agencies, I think, is to tend towards overprotection,” he said.
“Not always the case, but it’s frequently the case.”
Allies share more than Canada does, says Fadden
It’s a culture that isn’t shared by Canada’s allies, he said.
“Our close allies are much, much more open than we are. They really protect their core secrets. But the Brits, the Yanks, the Australians tend to be much more open than Canada is,” he said.
“You can often point to something that they’ve released that’s very close to what you want to release and ask the officials, ‘Why can’t we do this?'”
Fadden suggested Hogue consult the Department of Justice and the Clerk of the Privy Council if she runs into trouble getting access to government-held information.
The current discussions of national security and confidentiality are meant to set the stage for the next round of public hearings in March.
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