The government has restated its campaign commitment to create an all-party parliamentary national security oversight committee, but is so far not saying when it will introduce legislation, however, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was in the U.K. and France to meet with foreign counterparts on security issues and the government announced Liberal MP David McGuinty will play a leadership role on the upcoming committee. But national security expert Craig Forcese said it would be a “serious mistake” if the government doesn’t move simultaneously to increase the expert review of Canada’s national security activities and is hoping for some clear signals “soon” over its plans. “If the Liberals were to come forward and only add a new parliamentary body, in my view, they would have abandoned the recommendations of the Arar Commission: the Arar Commission said we need to expand our expert review system. The Tories were the only government that had a chance to respond to those recommendations. They didn’t. For the Liberals now to abandon those recommendations, I think would be a serious mistake,” said Prof. Forcese, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. “The reality is that our review and accountability system is under-equipped right now…. If you have expert review without parliamentary review then you have what I’ll call a siloing and stove-piping effect; focusing only on trees and no one is focusing on the forest. If you have parliamentary review without expert review, it’s going to be lacklustre.” The new Liberal government is facing an ambitious agenda and among its commitments, the Liberal 2015 platform promised to “deliver stronger national security oversight,” by creating “an all-party committee to monitor and oversee the operations of every government department and agency with national security responsibilities.” Since being elected to a majority government on Oct. 19, the Liberals have reiterated this commitment. It’s the first bullet point priority listed in the minister’s mandate letter. According to the letter, the minister will work with the Liberal government House leader to create a “statutory committee of parliamentarians with special access to classified information to review” national security activities. This will require legislation. Mr. Ralph Goodale’s (Regina-Wascana, Sask.) office said he was not available for interview last week, but in an email indicated that: “At this point we have nothing further to add to the commitments made in our platform. Work remains ongoing and further information will be made available in due course.” Mr. Goodale is in London Jan. 11 and 12, his office confirmed on Jan. 8, and will meet with the U.K.’s Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament “to help inform the development of a new Canadian committee of Parliamentarians on national security.” The Liberal government last week was still operating with a skeletal crew of political staff, with Mr. Goodale being supported by only three ministerial aides—as of deadline—along with ministry staff and staff in the PMO. When the Conservatives were in power the Liberals proposed the creation of a parliamentary “national security oversight committee” as one of a number of amendments put forward to “strengthen,” as Liberals described it, the Conservative government’s controversial Anti-Terrorism Act, Bill C-51, which is now in effect. Liberal MPs have also previously put forward similar proposals through various private members’ bills. As a majority government, the Conservatives voted down these attempts, calling additional oversight “needless red tape” and argued that existing review bodies were sufficient. Prof. Forcese said, based on his experience appearing before parliamentary committees for more than a dozen years, “the level of knowledge on national security matters is below rudimentary” among Canadian parliamentarians and Canada is “one of the few democracies that doesn’t have parliamentarians privy to secret information performing a review function when it comes to intelligence services.” Additionally, while some “confined” expert review bodies already exist, there is no body to review the Canadian Border Security Agency (CBSA), for example, said Prof. Forcese and said while there’s a review body for the RCMP, “it hasn’t even begun to look at national security issues.” “We’ve got a huge problem in terms of gaps,” he said. Currently in Canada: the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) is an independent body that reports to Parliament and reviews the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS); the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) is overseen by a federal commissioner; and there’s an arms length external review committee for the RCMP. Parliament is responsible for approving budgets and passing bills that affect national security matters, but does so without “high-level information” concerning national security activities, as argued in a May 2015 op-ed in The Toronto Star by Senate Liberal Grant Mitchell (Alberta), and former Liberal Senator Roméo Dallaire and former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, who sponsored Bill S-220, which sought to establish an “Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament,” styled after the U.K.’s model, in 2014. Conservative MP Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.), the party’s public safety critic, said he doesn’t want to “prejudge” and is waiting to see what the Liberals come forward with, as “the devil will be in the details.” He said it will be “something we’d certainly discuss as a party.” But he said the same concerns the party had when it opposed previous Liberal PMBs “remain.” “There has been no case made for why it has to be politicians as opposed to non-partisan officials providing this oversight, they will have to make that case, they haven’t made it to date,” said Mr. O’Toole, adding the SIRC was created “to not have it political.” “They just want politicians involved as opposed to non-partisan people,” said Mr. O’Toole. “Why do we need the NDP, Bloc, Conservatives and Liberals on a panel providing this oversight when you can actually have legal and intelligence experts providing some of this non-partisan oversight?” Mr. O’Toole said creating such a body is “easier ground” for the government in terms of meeting its commitment to amend the Anti-Terrorism Act, but said he hasn’t heard anything in terms of timing or specifics so far. Mr. O’Toole said he was not invited to accompany the minister to the U.K. this week. Prof. Forcese said that argument “diminishes” the “legitimate and important role” Parliament should play, “in a way that every other democracy has decided effectively to not occur.” Liberal Sen. Mitchell, who’s focused on this file and said he’s “picked up” now-retired Sen. Segal’s bill, said the creation of a parliamentary oversight committee is “no question” a “very high priority” for the Liberal government, and said while it takes “several weeks to several months for a new minister to staff up and become intimately acquainted with the challenges and priorities they face,” this “particular issue” isn’t one “that needs to take four years” to act on. “The national security threats that we’re confronting in today’s world, the complexity, therefore, of national security administration and management are so intense and so critical to our democracy that you can’t have simply one political perspective—the governments—managing that,” he said. “My bill, which is now my bill, which was the Segal-Dallaire bill, the British model that it’s based on, is not just after-the-fact review at all, it’s oversight, which means monitoring and advising as you go along,” said Sen. Mitchell. However, Prof. Forcese said while “everyone calls it oversight … what we’re talking about really is review, which is back-end assessments of compliance; it’s not command, control of operations.” Sen. Mitchell said it’s “incorrect to assume in any way, shape or form” that the parliamentarians selected for the committee “would not be of the level and quality to understand that secretary is their utmost responsibility,” and said in Britain, for example, “there have been no leaks, period.” The U.K. Intelligence and Security Review Committee, first created in 1994; Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, first created in 1988; and New Zealand’s Intelligence and Security Committee, created in 1996—all Westminster parliamentary systems—have all since functioned under minority Parliament situations. Prof. Forcese said he sees the government’s promise to make changes to the Anti-Terrorism Act as wrapped up and in the same file as its commitment to create an all-party national security review body, and said while he understands the government is faced with a “big agenda,” it needs to “get the ball rolling on this.” Measures introduced in the act are “going to make our system worse,” and, at present, we already have “patently an inadequate system,” said Prof. Forcese. “There are several lawsuits, people are twiddling their thumbs wondering, ‘Okay, well are we going to have to proceed with the lawsuit or are the Liberals actually going to carry through and roll back the unconstitutional aspects of C-51?’ Those things aren’t going to tread water forever, so I’m hoping that we’ll see some clear signals as to how this is going to roll out soon,” he said. The minister’s mandate letter refers to removing “problematic aspects” of the Anti-Terrorism Act, but that’s in the “eye of the beholder,” said Prof. Forcese. “This is going to have to be a carefully coordinated process and I hope that it’s a reasonable priority so that they get it underway before the political temperature starts to rise as we get later and later in the mandate,” he said. With a majority government, the legislative process of putting through such changes isn’t complicated. But he said it will be more complicated to actually draft of the legislation to ensure the “right infrastructure” is in place, proper resources, and there is maintained institutional knowledge. Prof. Forcese said of the previous attempts to create such a parliamentary review body, he “prefers” the “strong model” put forward in a PMB from Liberal MP Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, B.C.) in 2014, which follows the U.K.’s example. The PMO announced late on Jan. 8 that Mr. McGuinty (Ottawa South, Ont.) “will be taking a leadership role in the proposed statutory committee of parliamentarians” to review “security-related issues.” No legislation to enact such a committee has yet been tabled.