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CSIS destroyed secret file on Pierre Trudeau, stunning historians

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OTTAWA — Canada’s spy service destroyed a Cold War dossier on Pierre Trudeau in 1989 instead of turning it over to the national archives, The Canadian Press has learned.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service says the secret file on the former prime minister was scrapped because it fell short of the legal threshold for retention by either the service or the archives.

News of the decision to purge the file, which is coming to light only three decades later, has stunned and disappointed historians.

“It’s just outrageous, there’s no other word to describe it,” said John English, who wrote an acclaimed biography of Trudeau. “It’s a tragedy that this has happened, and I think the explanation is weak.”

Steve Hewitt, who has spent years chronicling the country’s security services, called the destruction “a crime against Canadian history.”

“This wanton destruction cries out for parliamentary intervention to ensure that historically significant documents held by government agencies are preserved instead of being made to disappear down an Orwellian memory hole,” said Hewitt, a senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham.

The Trudeau file was among hundreds of thousands the newly created CSIS inherited in the 1980s after the RCMP Security Service was dissolved following a series of scandals.

In a bid to uncover subversives out to disrupt the established order, RCMP spies eyed a staggering variety of groups and individuals, from academics and unions to environmentalists, peace groups and even politicians.

In 1988, James Kelleher, the federal minister responsible for CSIS at the time, directed the spy service to sort through the resulting heap of files.

Some RCMP records — including voluminous files on Quebec premier Rene Levesque and NDP leaders David Lewis and Tommy Douglas — were sent to the national archives.

Others were destroyed, including dossiers on prime ministers John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson. Still other files, judged to have current value at the time, went to CSIS’s active intelligence holdings.

Security records on individuals become eligible for disclosure under the Access to Information Act only 20 years after a person’s death. Until then, even the existence of a file is secret due to privacy considerations.

Rumours of a file on Trudeau, Canada’s third-longest serving prime minister, have circulated for decades.

A 1959 memo in the RCMP’s Levesque file indicates undercover officers duly noted Trudeau’s attendance at a gathering hosted by a Montreal artist.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has long worked closely with the Mounties, kept watch on Trudeau for more than 30 years, charting his path from globetrotting public intellectual who visited the Soviet Union in the early 1950s through his time as a Liberal prime minister.

The bureau’s heavily censored, 151-page dossier was released under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act just months after Trudeau’s death in September 2000, in keeping with American disclosure practices.

The Canadian Press recently requested the former prime minister’s RCMP file under the access law from Library and Archives Canada and CSIS prior to the 20th anniversary of his passing next year, given that it can take many months to process such applications.

The archives swiftly replied that it does not have a Trudeau dossier. CSIS said its records indicate the file was destroyed on Jan. 30, 1989.

In a written response to questions, the spy service said a 1988 analysis of the Trudeau file concluded it did not meet the threshold in the CSIS Act to justify being kept in service’s active inventory. The file also fell short of criteria for preservation set out by the national archives and was therefore destroyed the following year, CSIS added.

“CSIS takes privacy considerations related to its work very seriously. We are committed to ensuring that the retention of information continues to be in compliance with all legislation and ministerial direction,” the agency said.

In addition, guidelines and regulations set by the archives “are always followed when determining whether CSIS holdings contain archival value.”

CSIS declined to elaborate on the rationale for purging the Trudeau file.

However, when destruction of the Pearson and Diefenbaker files became known seven years ago, the spy service noted they were presumably compiled at the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

“That was a time when, as some historians argue, the security community occasionally saw threats that — hindsight being 20-20 — might seem exaggerated to us today.”

CSIS pointed out that such behaviour helped spur the federal government to divorce security-intelligence from law enforcement, leading to the creation of CSIS, a civilian agency.

Historians say that does not excuse erasing security files on former prime ministers from the national record.

It is the sort of practice “expected of an authoritarian state and not a proper democracy that values its history,” said Hewitt, co-author of the recent Just Watch Us, which delves into RCMP surveillance of the women’s movement.

University of Toronto historian Robert Bothwell said security files like the one on Trudeau tend to say more about the compilers than the subject of the surveillance. Nevertheless, important records should be kept.

“When it concerns a prime minister, it has historical value,” he said. “That’s a pretty clear standard.”

—Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version did not make it clear that CSIS inherited old RCMP files in the 1980s.


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Crime up, homicide down: Five things to know about the 2018 crime statistics

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police tape

OTTAWA — New national crime data for 2018 was released Monday, courtesy of Statistics Canada, with big changes to some key indicators. Here are five things that stood out:

Crime up, but still near decades-long low

The national statistics agency says both the crime rate and its measurement of the severity of crime were up two per cent this year, the fourth straight year of increases since 2014.

StatCan cautioned the prevalence of crime and its severity remain 17 per cent lower than in 2008, reflecting a long decline in crime rates nationally. From its peak in 1991, the national crime rate declined more than 50 per cent until 2014.

The agency says the increase in the severity of crimes in 2018 was attributable to marked increases in fraud (up 13 per cent), one particular class of sexual assault (15 per cent), shoplifting (14 per cent) and theft of items worth over $5,000 (15 per cent).

Less homicide, but provinces may vary

The rate of homicides in Canada ticked down nationally by four per cent, with 15 fewer homicides in 2018 than in 2017.

But the statistics tell a different story when broken down by province. Much of the decrease in came from declines in Alberta (38 fewer) and British Columbia (30 fewer), but Ontario experienced an enormous increase in homicides — 69 more than last year.

Statistics Canada analyst Greg Moreau notes that several incidents in Toronto, including the Danforth shooting one year ago (in which two people were killed), the discovery of eight victims of serial murders, and the North York van attack (in which 10 people died) all elevated the number of homicides recorded in 2018.

The data also shows decreases in firearm-related (by eight per cent) and gang-related (by five per cent) homicides across the country, the first time they have decreased since 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Statistics Canada further notes Indigenous people continue to disproportionately be the victims of homicide. Though they make up five per cent of Canada’s population, Indigenous people were 22 per cent of homicide victims.

Sexual assault is up, and more left unreported

The rate of “Level 1” sexual assault — defined statistically as sexual assault without a weapon and without other physical harm — was up 15 per cent in 2018 over 2017. And in his article, Moreau says that rate remains “likely an underestimation of the true extent of sexual assault in Canada.”

This is the fourth consecutive year this class of sexual assault increased, and it usually makes up around 98 per cent of all police-reported sexual-assault incidents. But since these types of crimes often go unreported, the actual incidence is likely not reflected in the statistics.

In 2014, another Statistics Canada survey estimated only five per cent of sexual assaults were reported to police.

Prince Edward Island reported an increase in sexual-assault reports by over half (55 per cent, though with the number of incidents provincewide in the dozens) while Nova Scotia (42 per cent), Yukon (20 per cent) and Ontario (18 per cent) all reported increases above the national average for 2018.

Hate crimes down from 2017 peak

After the rate of hate crimes spiked in 2017 by almost 50 per cent, there was a reduction of 13 per cent in 2018. Still, hate crimes occurred at a higher rate last year than in any other year since 2009, Statistics Canada says.

Statistics Canada notes the decline is almost completely attributable to reductions in Ontario, and the number of hate crimes against Muslims halved year-over-year.

Both violent and non-violent hate crimes decreased, and hate crimes that targeted black people and hate crimes targeting people over sexual orientation both fell by double digits. The share of hate crimes aimed at Jews also fell, by four per cent.

More fraud, more extortion

Statistics Canada notes the world of scams and extortion is increasingly moving online, with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre flagging schemes in which scammers pretend to be from the Canada Revenue Agency as well as gift-card scams.

Overall, the rate of fraud increased by 12 per cent, and sits almost 50 per cent higher than in 2008, after growing for seven years in a row. There were over 129,400 incidents of fraud reported to police in 2018, StatsCan says.

StatCan does say the increasing ease of reporting fraud online could have contributed to the higher numbers.

There was an even more dramatic increase in extortion from 2017 to 2018 — a 44-per-cent leap, Statistics Canada says. The dynamic is the same across the country, and the rate has been increasing since 2012.

Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press

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Court dismisses challenge of deal that helps U.S. nab tax cheats in Canada

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Supreme Court

OTTAWA — A Canada-U.S. deal allowing Canadian financial institutions to send customer information to U.S. authorities to help find tax cheats does not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a judge has ruled.

Federal Court of Canada Justice Anne Mactavish dismissed an appeal from two American citizens, Gwendolyn Louise Deegan and Kazia Highton, who now live in Canada and have no real ongoing connection with the United States.

The U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, requires banks and other institutions in countries outside the United States to report information about accounts held by U.S. individuals, including Canadians with dual citizenship.

Deegan and Highton challenged the constitutionality of Canadian provisions implementing a 2014 agreement between the countries that makes the information-sharing possible.

They argued the provisions breach charter guarantees that prevent unreasonable seizure and ensure the equality of people under law.

Mactavish concluded in her decision released Monday that although the provisions do result in the seizure of the banking information of Americans in Canada, the affected people have only “a limited expectation of privacy” in their data.

She also ruled that the provisions do not violate the charter guarantee that every person is equal under the law without discrimination based on national origin.

Under the tax arrangements, Canadian financial institutions are legally required to provide the Canada Revenue Agency with data concerning accounts belonging to customers whose information suggests they might have American citizenship. The revenue agency then hands the information to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

Nearly all countries levy income taxes based on residency, while the U.S. system is based on citizenship.

The U.S. considers all American citizens to be permanent tax residents in the United States for federal income-tax purposes, taxing the worldwide income of “specified U.S. persons” regardless of whether they live, work, or earn income in the United States.

“The result of this is that every Canadian resident who is an American citizen is subject to U.S. federal taxation on all of their income from all sources, wherever that income may be derived, even if he or she is also a Canadian citizen,” Mactavish says in her decision.

“Canada clearly found itself in an extremely difficult position as a result of the enactment of FATCA by the American government.”

U.S. law requires extensive financial and asset reporting, with the threat of significant penalties for failure to meet the obligations.

However, Mactavish notes, the U.S. government estimates that fewer than 10 per cent of all people who file American tax returns from outside the United States ultimately owe any taxes to Washington.

In addition, a tax treaty between Canada and the United States allows residents of Canada to receive credit for some taxes paid to the federal and provincial governments that would otherwise have been owed to the U.S. revenue service.

Deegan and Highton unsuccessfully argued the provisions require Canadian banks to transfer the information of potentially hundreds of thousands of people annually to the federal revenue agency in Ottawa without judicial authorization or any state oversight.

They said this amounts to “a massive fishing expedition and a seizure that offends every core precept of the citizenry’s … right to a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Mactavish pointed out that the Supreme Court of Canada has found that taxpayers’ privacy interest in records that may be relevant to the filing of income-tax returns is “relatively low.”

The method used to collect this information is “minimally intrusive” and the data shared with the U.S. revenue service is afforded protection under the tax treaty between the two countries, she added.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

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