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Canada will start reporting when it uses intelligence obtained through torture

New rules on intelligence sharing will limit how Ottawa requests and discloses information that may have been tainted by torture or mistreatment.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA

Canada’s intelligence agencies will be required to tell the public when it acts on or shares information that was obtained by torture.

The new ministerial directives, issued by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on Monday, will create new rules on how three national security agencies use, request, or disclose intelligence to foreign governments known to engage in torture.

“We’ve limited the scope of the use of information,” Goodale told reporters Monday.


The new rules don’t ban torture-tainted intelligence altogether, and still allow intelligence services to use this information if there is an imminent risk of attack.

“Promises not to torture from those who already break clear international and national laws by torturing in the first place are virtually worthless.”

But security agencies will now have to report potential incidents of information gleaned by torture to internal government oversight bodies, such as the soon-to-be-created Parliamentary national security committee.

Sanitized versions of those reports will be made public.

The changes still allow for sharing information with dodgy intelligence agencies or governments if there are appropriate safeguards or assurances in place, according to the policy.

Amnesty International Canada welcomed the new rules, but criticized the decision to continue allowing the intelligence sharing in certain circumstances.

“Promises not to torture from those who already break clear international and national laws by torturing in the first place are virtually worthless,” said Alex Neve, the group’s secretary general, in a statement.

The issue has been pertinent for Canada, as Ottawa has faced blistering criticism in recent years for sharing intelligence on citizens and residents who later wound up being tortured by foreign governments.

Just this year, the Trudeau government apologized to three men who were tortured in Syria, acting on intelligence originally prepared by CSIS and the RCMP.


The move could impact the way Canada shares intelligence with countries such as Egypt and Turkey, where human rights groups have accused government agencies of torturing prisoners.

The new directives come just months after U.S. President Donald Trump told ABC News that torture “absolutely” works, raising concerns that America would continue some of its past enhanced interrogation techniques.

“There’s an element of realism.”

The new directives replace a six-year-old policy on torture written by the previous government for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Border Services Agency, and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. That directive was harshly criticized by rights groups and opposition parties as being too open-ended in allowing torture-linked data to be used, requested, and shared.

Stephanie Carvin, an Assistant Professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, said the changes manage to weigh respecting human rights and giving security agencies the ability to detect and stop attacks.

“I hate to say it, but that’s probably the right balance,” she told VICE News.

Canada relies on foreign governments for much of its intelligence products so it’s crucial to keep the flow of information coming, she said. “We are an intelligence consumer,” says Carvin, a former intelligence analyst with Canada’s spy agency.

Carvin says, in her read of the directives, CSIS would still retain the ability to review information gleaned by torture and use it in some intelligence assessments, raising the possibility that the new directives won’t eliminate torture-tainted information altogether.

“There’s an element of realism,” Carvin says.

The new rules do not cover other agencies, like the Communication Security Establishment — which collects and shares signals intelligence, such as large-scale analysis of cell phone traffic — and reports to the minister of national defence. Government officials confirmed directives for that agency, and others, were in the works.

Monday marks the first time that these directives were published proactively, as ministerial directives are — by default — secret.