Stephen Harper’s choice for Canada’s next privacy watchdog has given legal advice to the country’s top spying and national security agencies, according to sources with knowledge of a confidential resumé circulated by the Prime Minister’s Office.
In his role as assistant deputy attorney general, Daniel Therrien advised agencies including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the RCMP, Public Safety Canada and the Department of National Defence.
He has now been nominated to safeguard Canadians’ privacy from those organizations.
His resumé has opposition politicians and Canada’s privacy community concerned about Therrien’s ability to provide oversight on agencies he used to advise.
“Any candidate for this important position . . . must have demonstrated expertise in and knowledge of the complexities of protecting privacy, and protecting privacy requires knowledge that goes beyond the law that’s on the books,” said Sukanya Pillay, the executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, on Tuesday.
“Unless we have a strong, informed and committed privacy commissioner at the helm, the privacy rights of Canadians might too easily be siphoned away.”
The CCLA is one of over 30 privacy experts and organizations urging Therrien’s nomination be withdrawn, calling it “indefensible.”
According to the groups, Therrien has a conflict of interest when it comes to reviewing organizations and programs he had a hand in advising or creating. Moreover, the groups say, Therrien lacks the specialized knowledge required to address “Canada’s many privacy problems.”
Therrien has declined to be interviewed before a House of Commons committee spends an hour vetting his nomination on Tuesday. But Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who recommended Therrien to the prime minister, stood by the Conservatives’ selection.
“Here’s an individual . . . that has been part of the public service for 30-plus years, has a high degree of skill and expertise in legal matters as well as privacy matters and so who brings a wealth of talent to the job as well as experience,” Clement told reporters in Ottawa. “And that’s exactly the kind of person that Parliament should consider.”
Clement confirmed a report from Postmedia News Monday that revealed Therrien was one of two people interviewed by Clement for the job. But he declined to say who else was interviewed, or who made a short list prepared by the selection committee. Clement also declined to say specifically what experience Therrien has in privacy law.
Privacy experts have said Therrien is completely unknown to the privacy community in Canada, and worry the Conservatives are sending a message by passing over several highly respected privacy advocates in favour of a lawyer with a national security background.
Privately — because they have to deal with the commissioner’s office — advocates are also concerned about how much Therrien will be able to say publicly about his experience at the Department of Justice.
In March, Ottawa slapped a life-long gag order on a number of senior bureaucrats and government lawyers who deal with the national security file. It’s not known if Therrien was included in that order under the Security of Information Act. Anyone subject to the law could face as many as 14 years in prison for disclosing “special operational information” without authorization from the government.
Therrien is scheduled to appear before a House of Commons committee on Tuesday.