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In the dark

The public safety minister admits Canada's spy agency kept its data analysis centre secret

Documents confirm CSIS didn’t tell the Trudeau government about its illegal metadata program

Nobody told the Trudeau government that Canada’s spy agency was running a large data analysis centre until a federal court started looking into whether the facility was collecting troves of data on Canadians who were never suspected of a crime.

New documents released by the office of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale show that he was not briefed or informed on the existence of the Operation Data Analysis Centre until October 16 — nearly two weeks after a federal court ruled that it had been illegally housing and analyzing data on innocent Canadians.

The new documents confirm VICE News’ reporting from earlier in January, when it tried to find a paper trail regarding the data centre, but couldn’t.

Under the program, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) was retaining metadata collected through its wiretaps and surveillance, even if those being surveilled were only tangentially related to the investigation.

Goodale’s office was asked to submit a list of times when the minister was informed of the data analysis centre, or when he was briefed on its metadata retention program. Goodale’s office provided a list of nine memos or briefings that met that criteria, from 2006 to 2016.

The second last briefing was dated November 5, 2014, a year before Goodale took office; and the most recent was October 16, 2016, two weeks after the federal court delivered its ruling CSIS’ program as “illegal” on October 4.

The documents were requested by Member of Parliament Matthew Dubé, public safety critic for the NDP.

“Prior to the Federal Court decision being issued, the Service did not specifically inform the Minister of Public Safety that it was retaining non-threat, related associated data linked to third parties,” the documents from Goodale’s office reads.

“Though the distinction between threat-related and non-threat-related was not made, CSIS did, on numerous occasions, make Ministers aware of the beneficial use and analysis of metadata.”

The submission from Goodale’s office does note that CSIS updated both him and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in April and June of last year regarding the ongoing court hearings, but they didn’t appear to discuss the existence of the data centre, only “retaining associated data over time.”

The fact that CSIS hadn’t updated the Trudeau government on the program at all. Doesn’t bode well for its relationship with the government, especially as Goodale contemplates wholesale overhaul of CSIS’ mandate.

Cover: Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

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