Public Safety

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening in adjournment proceedings to pursue a question that I initially asked on February 4 of this year. It relates to the mysterious case of Dr. Arthur Porter, as I referred to it at the time. I have asked questions on previous occasions, and on that occasion I asked the Prime Minister a question and the response came from the Minister of Public Safety. I asked why Dr. Porter is still a member of Privy Council, which is the highest level of trust within the government, an individual who is able to access all government secrets.


At the time I did not realize there was more to this story than I knew on February 4. For instance, my question to the Prime Minister included the question as to whether normal background checks were suspended. I asked how Dr. Porter was approved for these very sensitive positions.

What I have learned since then, through a number of access to information requests, is that although the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act requires that all leaders of parties with more than 12 members in the House get to review appointments, my assumption was that leaders of other parties had not raised an objection. They, like the Prime Minister, were unaware there was anything suspicious in Dr. Porter’s background and that somehow the background checks fell apart.

What I was surprised to discover is that one of the leaders of one of the official parties in the House at the time, not once but twice, objected to Dr. Porter. The member objected, when in 2008 he was made a member of the Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee, and in 2010 objected when Dr. Porter was named chairman of the very important Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee.

How could this have happened? Who was that member? Now that he no longer sits in the House, I can use his proper name. It was the leader of the Bloc Québécois, Gilles Duceppe. Gilles Duceppe, in his first letter dated February 2, 2008, to the Prime Minister, which I am going to repeat in English, said “Regarding the appointment of Arthur T. Porter…I wish to draw the following to your attention…”.

He proceeded to draw to the Prime Minister’s attention the problems that occurred when Dr. Porter was at the Detroit Medical Center. Mr. Duceppe lists them as conflicts of interest, mismanagement, financial crises, threats of bankruptcy, and so forth, and refers the Prime Minister to an article in Le Devoir. He also mentioned that it had been reported that Dr. Porter regarded himself as a close friend of former U.S. president George Bush and former vice president Cheney. Mr. Duceppe thought that such a close relationship with foreign powers, previous leaders, would represent a conflict of interest in his loyalties to Canada by being in such a sensitive post. In 2010, when the Prime Minister sought to elevate Dr. Porter to chair of the committee, Monsieur Duceppe repeated his concerns.

Again, I remain baffled. In every answer from Conservative members of Parliament to questions about Dr. Porter, we are told only two things: he is now basically escaping prosecution for his transgressions by hiding out in the Caribbean, and that these allegations had nothing to do with the fact that he is a Privy Council officer nor that he was chairman of the Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee.

My questions are very simple. Is Dr. Porter still a Privy Council officer? Our information is that he is. Where were the background checks? More specifically, why did the Prime Minister choose to ignore very clear and specific warnings from the leader of the Bloc Québécois, Mr. Duceppe, who raised these very issues. We now see that Dr. Porter was a spectacularly poor choice to be in possession of this country’s secrets.

Candice Bergen: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for her interest in this. I want to assure the member that the allegations relating to Mr. Porter have absolutely nothing to do with the work he did as a member of the Security Intelligence Review Committee. There has been no suggestion whatsoever of any improper handling or disclosure of confidential information.

Prior to his appointment, Mr. Porter was subject to a series of security background checks coordinated by officials from the Privy Council Office. These checks were robust and included police, security and financial records. The government consulted with both the leader of the New Democratic Party and the leader of the Liberal Party. As the member is aware, Mr. Porter offered his resignation in 2011 and the government accepted it.

The allegations that Mr. Porter is currently facing do not have anything to do with his former responsibilities. The government has taken this opportunity, however, to strengthen the screening process as we feel that is important. Prospective Security Intelligence Review Committee members are now vetted in the same way as all other government officials who require access to highly-sensitive information through a clearance conducted by CSIS, in addition to a pre-appointment background check. This includes consideration of people with whom the prospective members are closely associated and connected with.

Importantly, CSIS does not assess individuals’ qualifications to serve as members of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, also called SIRC, only their loyalty to Canada and their reliability. In addition, as part of new procedures, CSIS provides the results of its checks to the Privy Council Office, which, in consultation with the government, retains responsibility for deciding whether to appoint the individual. In this way, the independence of SIRC is preserved, which is incredibly important for all of us.

As the hon. member may know, in June 2012 the government appointed Chuck Strahl to replace Mr. Porter as chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee. Mr. Strahl was subject to these new security measures.

We believe the steps we have taken in this matter have strengthened the screening process. They ensure the continued robustness and integrity of the process, as well as the protection of confidential government information.