Saturday, June 19, 2010



( In 2006, the Canadian Government had appointed a Commission of Inquiry headed by former Supreme Court justice John Major to enquire into the crash of an aircraft of Air India named Kanishka on June 23,1985. The crash was caused by an explosive device suspected to have been planted in a piece of unaccompanied baggage by Sikh extremists belonging to the Babbar Khalsa headed by the late Talwinder Singh Parmar of Vancouver, Canada. The report of the Commission was released on June 17, 2010. The Commission has found that a "cascading series of errors" by the Government of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service allowed the terrorist attack to take place.This is the second instalment of relevant extracts from the report)

Despite its awareness of the threat and of the identity of the potential
protagonists who might carry it out, CSIS appears to have obtained little
important new information of its own about the Sikh extremist threat or about
the Babbar Khalsa or about Parmar from the fall of 1984 through to March of
1985. The major reason for this gap lay in the state of the warrant approvals
process that had been put in place by the CSIS Act in June 1984.

On the ground, CSIS BC investigators were aware of the urgent nature of the
threat from Sikh extremism and of the inadequacy of their information resources
to deal with it. They simply had no information sources of their own and had
been totally unsuccessful in recruiting sources within a Sikh community that
was somewhat insular and vulnerable to intimidation by the extremists. They
soon concluded that they needed surveillance and electronic intercepts in order
to be able to understand and respond to the increasing threat.

The institutional response to the request to approve a warrant to intercept
Parmar’s communications demonstrates a fi xation with form over substance
and, despite protestations to the contrary at the time – and subsequently,
suggests a lack of appreciation of the reality of the threat.

The civilianization of CSIS was in part a reaction to RCMP Security Service
excesses in its investigation of the Front de Libération du Québec (the “FLQ”)
and extremist Quebec Separatists. Under the RCMP Security Service, while
electronic intercepts had required approval, the process was informal, simply
requiring a request to the Solicitor General, the Minister responsible for the
RCMP (and later also for CSIS). With the creation of CSIS, as one of the means to
protect civil liberties from unjustifi able intrusion by or on behalf of government,
a new system of judicial supervision of certain intelligence operations was
instituted, including a requirement for judicial approval for intercepting private
communications. This new protocol was to apply prospectively but also was
intended to cover existing intercepts that had been approved by the Minister.
There was an explicit requirement that existing intercepts had to be reviewed
internally and approved by the Solicitor General and then by a judge of the
Federal Court, all within 6 months of the coming into force of the CSIS Act, i.e. by
January 1985.

When added to the considerable stresses and strains that accompanied
the rushed transition to CSIS from the RCMP Security Service, it was entirely
foreseeable that this warrant conversion process would be the source of added
pressure and potential misadventure. The foreseeability of the problems that
might be caused by the requirement to devote considerable resources to the
conversion process should have called for added care and attention to ensure
that the process would be capable of meeting new needs that would arise and
not just of preserving existing arrangements. Instead, the response of CSIS was
to prioritize existing warrants and to defer new applications, with the exception
of only those deemed most urgent. As CSIS understandably would want to avoid
disrupting existing investigations, in theory, this process could be considered a
sensible policy; in practice, its eff ectiveness depended on the Service’s ability to
respect the new needs that were more urgent.

The evidence before the Commission indicates that, despite the priority
afforded to the warrant conversion process, it was possible to secure a warrant
in an extremely short timeline to respond to a perceived urgent priority, as
occurred in an area other than the threat of Sikh extremism. The protracted wait
for the processing of the Parmar warrant application either demonstrates an
unthinking application of the concept of priority of existing warrants or, more
likely, refl ects the lack of appreciation of the true urgency of the threat of Sikh

Despite certifi cation by the existing chain of command in BC as well as by the
Headquarters counterterrorism hierarchy, and despite increasingly pointed
memoranda from the front lines in BC, the application for the Parmar warrant
lay dormant for months while the conversion process went forward. Then, after
proceeding through multiple steps in the complicated, and still in fl ux, approval
process, it was further delayed for an additional month by what turned out to
be an irrelevant issue raised by the Minister’s Offi ce. Although the fi nal steps
leading up to the submission of the warrant to, and approval by, the Federal
Court proceeded relatively quickly, the total time from the request for a warrant
to the date of approval was over fi ve months. This lengthy delay was entirely
disproportionate to the heightened threat and the demonstrated lack of
intelligence sources available to respond to it.

The subsequent course of the BC investigation confi rms the theme of inadequate
resourcing and indicates that execution on the ground was not suffi cient for the
seriousness of the threat being dealt with. Eventually the BC investigators did get
approval both for electronic intercepts and for physical surveillance coverage on
Parmar. As will be seen, the story of neither eff ort is particularly edifying. ( To be continued)