Rule on spying recruits relaxed

October 8, 1999

A change in rules governing Canada's spy agency has made hiring campus informants a little easier, according to recently declassified documents.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) no longer needs to secure approval from the solicitor general who oversees the agency when it needs a university source in an emergency. The rule came into effect two-and-a-half years ago but has just been disclosed.

The agency is playing down the change, saying the act that governs its operations makes clear that hiring an informant is an option only when national security is threatened.

Steve Hewitt, assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan, who is writing a book about intelligence activity on Canadian campuses, said the change in the relations with the minister is more about practicality than increased surveillance.

The procedure would typically be used when an informant has, for example, infiltrated a white supremacist group that decides to hold a meeting on campus. The intelligence service would no longer have to go to the solicitor general to get permission.

Information on surveillance activity on campuses is kept under wraps for national security reasons. There have, however, been reports that in the past the security services infiltrated student groups. The Canadian Federation of Students alleged that an agent provocateur was at Montreal demonstrations.

The CFS says the idea of hiring campus informants is silly. "There are not many secrets here," said Elizabeth Carlyle, deputy chairperson. "If we're holding a demonstration we'll give three months' notice."

CSIS spokesman Dan Lambert said the intelligence service is not asked to investigate legitimate dissent.

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