OTTAWA - Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is refusing to appear before a House of Commons committee to answer lingering questions about contentious comments by Canada's spy chief.
A Public Safety Department official told the committee Tuesday that Toews — the minister responsible for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service — will not testify at a hearing Wednesday.
CSIS director Dick Fadden said in a June television interview that he was in the process of warning at least two provinces — through the Privy Council Office — that members of their cabinets had come under foreign influence.
He also said CSIS had suspicions about a number of municipal politicians in British Columbia. Fadden was coy about the countries involved, but did not deny that China was a country of concern.
In an email to the committee clerk, the public safety official says Fadden has already made himself available to the public safety committee "for a full two hours" on the subject.
"The minister respectfully declines the committee's invitation."
Fadden's interview angered critics who said the comments cast aspersions on all elected officials with ties abroad. Liberal MP Mark Holland said he will continue to pursue the matter because Toews still has some explaining to do.
"An entire community is suffering under the weight of these allegations," Holland said Tuesday.
"The cloud of suspicion continues to grow, and you have a minister who's in hiding, refusing to come before committee to even answer generalized questions about these allegations. I think it's profoundly unfair."
Fadden, appearing before the committee in July, said he was briefed on the foreign influence issue in late 2009. Early this year, he informed national security adviser Marie-Lucie Morin of his general concerns — mainly to figure out how the provinces in question might best be warned.
Fadden said he only addressed the subject in the June TV interview because he made similar comments during a question-and-answer session following a March speech to the Royal Canadian Military Institute.
He has since informed the committee he had received "approval to proceed" from Toews' office with both the military institute speech and the June interview. But he noted the approval obviously did not include the foreign influence remarks made during the unscripted question session at the institute's event.
Morin has also been called to the public safety committee. The Privy Council Office said Tuesday she would not appear either.
CSIS has passed its report on alleged foreign influence to Toews.
"Talking points" prepared for Toews — and vetted by the Privy Council Office — after Fadden made the controversial comments suggest that CSIS making the government aware of foreign interference concerns is similar to the spy agency advising officials of possible terrorist activity or espionage.
"It is important to note that CSIS's view of such cases represent only one perspective and whether the government chooses to act in any particular case is never a foregone conclusion," say the notes. "This has always been the case in Canada and is also the case elsewhere."
Holland said CSIS made serious allegations that must be explained. "You cannot drop a bomb like that and not clear the air afterwards."
"What does it mean for somebody to be influenced? Does it mean that somebody is trying to do influence with another country, that somebody is setting up a community association or a friendship group, or does it mean that foreign governments have spies in our midsts? I think Canadians deserve that answer," he said.
"For CSIS to say this is a matter of national security — it's too late, they did talk about it."
*** This CON govt. is a scam - they keep invoking "National Security" yet they have single handedly undermined all sorts of files on this portfolio. They continually flip the middle one to the House of Commons, which is CENTRAL to our democracy. Also distressing is that they are not only suggesting private construction contracts for sensitive sites, but have shunned the communities needed to thwart future attacks. Truth be told: this CON govt. is making Canada less safe and the whole world can see it. MS ***