Executive Oversight

AuthorCraig Forcese
 
Executive Oversight
Having explored the six values embedded in Canada’s national security
system, the balance of this book examines in greater detail the mech-
anics of “control” and “scrutiny” the two pillars of democratic regu-
lation of security services. is chapter focuses on executive oversight,
while the next chapter examines judicial and quasi-judicial control
and scrutiny. Chapters  and examine specialized national security
reviews. Finally, Chapter  outlines other forms of scrutiny relevant to
Canada’s national security system.
Recall that in Canadian practice, oversight is a form of account-
ability in which the accountability body is involved in decision mak-
ing concerning the activities of the service. e accountability body
may vet the service’s conduct in advance of the activity and may be
involved in various forms of approval (among other things). In the
national security system, executive oversight responds to the weak-
nesses of more conventional forms of democratic accountability for
security services. First, much national security activity takes place in
secret, beyond the scrutiny of conventional democratic accountability
bodies. Second, security services are expected to meet values of ecacy/
eciency, legality, and necessity/proportionality, and a failure to do
so may have serious consequences for both security and liberty given
the considerable power the services wield. is requires the security
Executive Oversight | 
services to meet enhanced standards of accountability and motivates
augmented executive oversight. As noted in Chapter , this should
mean that “the more intrusive the operation, the higher-up should
be the decision-maker” and that operations should be “authorised
by someone outside the agency. In practice, oversight comes in two
forms in Canada: horizontal oversight and vertical oversight.
Horizontal oversight is oversight performed by the “centre of gov-
ernment,” often exercising inuence through proximity to the prime
minister and to the Cabinet process. Horizontal oversight is less about
holding individual services and departments to account and more
about coordinating (at a high level) the activities of Canada’s decen-
tralized national security and intelligence community. e key central
agencies in horizontal oversight are the Privy Council Oce (PCO)
and, to a lesser degree, the Treasury Board Secretariat. In practice,
observers regularly regard Canada’s horizontal oversight as weak as
contrasted to that of its allies, such as the other Five Eyes partners.
A. Privy Council Oce
e PCO is the “public service department of the Prime Minister.”
us, “under the leadership of the Clerk of the Privy Council and
Secretary to the Cabinet, the PCO provides direct support to the
primeminister across the range of functions and responsibilities of the
head of government.” e PCO plays a key role in coordinating gov-
ernment policy; indeed, it has sometimes been called the “nerve centre
of government.” In the national security area, the PCO is responsible
1 Peter Gill, “Of Intelligence Oversight and the Challenge of Surveillance Corporatism”
(2020) 35:7 Intelligence and National Security 970 at 972.
2 The Five Eye partners are Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States,
and Canada.
3 Privy Council Oce, “The Responsibilities of the Privy Council Oce” (last modif‌ied
7 December 2017), online: www.canada.ca/en/privy-council/services/publications/
4 Donald Savoie, Governing from the Centre (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999) at 109.

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