*** Do NOT underestimate CSIS. They know what's going on better than any of us because that's their job and now they're informing Canadians of what it is they know that is of significant national concern - is that not what the public demands of them? MS ***
OTTAWA - The unapologetic head of the country's spy service insists there is foreign interference in provincial politics and there is nothing wrong with Canadians knowing about it.
Dick Fadden told a rare July sitting of the public safety and national intelligence committee Monday that foreign influence over a number of provincial politicians and public servants is a "concern and a threat."
The director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service raised that concern during a CBC interview last month and did not deny China was among the countries interfering in Canadian politics.
Fadden's original interview — broadcast on the eve of a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao — enraged many who said they cast aspersions on all elected officials with ties abroad. A spokesman for the prime minister said at the time that the CSIS director was speaking on his own without pre-clearance from the government.
Fadden said Monday he had no intention of resigning in the wake of the controversy.
"I stand by my general message on foreign interference," the bespectacled spymaster told the committee. "It is a concern and a threat, it is more common here and elsewhere than many think, and it is desirable that this threat should be known and discussed."
But Fadden said the concerns he raised do not "constitute threats to the security of Canada" — no lives are at stake and no national secrets are believed to have been compromised — so he did not apprise Public Safety Minister Vic Toews nor the Privy Council Office.
The issue has been simmering for some time, he added, and Toews "is generally aware of foreign interference in Canada," as is the PCO.
Fadden told CBC television in June he was in the process of warning at least two provinces, through the PCO, that members of their cabinets have come under foreign influence.
He also said CSIS had suspicions about a number of municipal politicians in British Columbia.
He was cagey about the countries involved, but did not deny that China was a country of concern for the spy service.
"We are dealing here with a spectrum of behaviour by foreign entities that often start out innocently but later veer toward something that actually harms Canadian interests," he told the committee.
"This is a very subtle process."
He added: "Central to our concerns with true foreign interference is the strong belief that decisions about Canada must be made by Canadians for Canadian reasons."
Under repeated questioning from MPs of all stripes, Fadden would not specify either the provinces or municipalities involved, nor would he name the countries or the individuals. He called those tidbits "operational matters" for government ears only.
Some marvelled at Fadden's uncommon candour, while still others said the spymaster was being refreshingly forthright.
The Prime Minister's Office denied knowledge of Fadden's worries.
Fadden was unapologetic Monday in the face of scathing criticism from New Democrat MP Don Davies, the committee's co-chair.
"Sir, I would put to you that you have created great consternation and anxiety, unwarranted suspicion and an unfounded stain on every municipal elected official in British Columbia — indeed, every provincial cabinet minister in the country," said Davies.
"Do you acknowledge that, sir?"
"No, sir, I do not," was Fadden's reply, adding it should be no surprise that political interference should involve those with "political decision-making authority."
Said Davies: "You have made very serious allegations that have tarred a large number of innocent people and ethnic communities, as well, with suspicion and I think you have an obligation to clear the air."
Fadden was unmoved, saying CSIS is concerned with foreign powers, not ethnic communities in Canada.
"I do not think an apology is necessary," he said.