Information-sharing and Torture
Controversially, in 2011, then-Public Safety Minister Vic Toews issued “ministerial directions” to Canada’s key security and intelligence agencies on “information sharing with foreign entities”. This innocuous title betrayed little of these administrative instruments’ actual content.
These directions focused on information sharing “when doing so may give rise to a substantial risk of mistreatment of an individual”. They were, in other words, new policies on the thorny issue of information-sharing and torture. The directions are permissive of information-sharing that might induce (or be the product of) mistreatment, limiting and controlling how that sharing might take place but not precluding it absolutely.
When reported in the press in 2012, the new directions elicited a hostile reception from opposition politicians, and the human rights and legal community. The 2011 directions represent a shift in emphasis from their closest predecessors. Earlier, 2009 ministerial direction, for example, seemed to bar use of inbound torture information – CSIS is not to “not knowingly rely upon information which is derived from the use of torture” and there was no emphatic instruction allowing out-bound sharing that might contribute to torture.
But at the same time, it is also clear that CSIS operational policies implementing these directions had overpromised by asserting unverifiable and implausible guarantees that shared information was not the product, or a contributing cause, of torture. They also, understandably, held the door open to information sharing even in the face of substantial risk of mistreatment, as in the Air India scenario discussed above.
The 2011 directions may be an honest rendition of longstanding government practice in at least some agencies, consolidating more tacit and less regimented practices into a single code of conduct for the three key security and intelligence services within the minister of public safety’s portfolio. At core, they provide a high-level system of approval for inbound or outbound information sharing tied to torture, where the stakes are high enough, but do not impose an obligation on the minister to pre-authorize such decisions (a striking omission).
This exhibit contains documents related to the 2011 ministerial directions. Please select "chapters" from the right-hand column.