Some federal budget good news, more CSIS problems and more Ukraine quagmire


No big new defence spending announcements

The headline in a Hill Times article following the release of the federal Budget 2023 reads, Scant new funding on defence and foreign policy in budget (28 March 2023).

Author Neil Moss writes:

While the budget trumpets ongoing investments in Canada’s defence—including $38.6-billion for NORAD modernization over 20 years, and $2.1-billion over seven years to increase Canada’s NATO contribution—it puts forward little new funding at a time when Ottawa has been under increased pressure from its allies, including the United States and France, to increase its defence spending. comments:

We are delighted that the Government of Canada has chosen not to pile on yet more increases on top of ongoing mega-increases, whatever the “pressure” from other countries.

Replacing aging satellites for both civilian and military uses

For an excellent analysis of the challenges inherent in spending current allocations for strengthening Arctic defences, see A plan to plug gaps in the continent’s Arctic defence shield faces roadblocks (Murray Brewster,, 4 January 2023).

Brewster writes:

Perhaps the most immediate and vexing problem facing Canadian officials is the country’s rapidly aging chain of government-owned RADARSAT Constellation satellites. The federal auditor general warned in November that the satellites could outrun their useful lifespan by 2026.

He continues:

Replacements for those satellites — which are used by several government departments, including National Defence — are still on the drawing board. The current government promised dedicated military surveillance satellites in its 2017 defence policy but — as Auditor General Karen Hogan noted in her recent report — those systems aren’t set for launch until 2035.

Anti-foreign-interference measures

Against the backdrop of ongoing allegations of China’s interference in Canadian elections, the government has announced two new measures:

  • The creation of the National Counter-Foreign Interference Office, with $13.5-million in funding over five years, within Public Safety Canada; and
  • $48.9-million over three years for the RCMP to quell “harassment and intimidation” from foreign governments, boost policing, and consult with those communities at the greatest risk of this threat.

More money for national security and intelligence agency oversight

One particularly important measure is an increase in funding of $53 million over two years to support reviews by the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP).

Threat Reduction Measures (TRM) mandate of CSIS

The latest NSIRA report, entitled Review of CSIS Threat Reduction Activities, released in February 2023, first reviews the mandate of CSIS in relation to its “disruption” powers.

Paragraph 14 states:

In June 2015, Parliament enac ted the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015, which authorized CSIS, in the new section 12.1 of the CSIS Act, to take measures to reduce threats to the security of Canada, within or outside Canada.

The new operational measures represent an “unprecedented departure” from CSIS’s traditional intelligence collection role and permit CSIS, for example, to thwart travel plans, cancel bank accounts or covertly interfere with websites.

The NSIRA report continues in Paragraph 15:

In July 2019, the National Security Act, 2017, came into force and introduced amendments to CSIS’s Threat Reduction Measures (TRM) mandate that sought to clarify and further define this power.

In particular, the amendments stressed the importance of compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter). They included specific provisions affirming the need for all TRMs to comply with the Charter, and stipulating that measures could only limit Charter rights or freedoms if authorized by a judge under a warrant.

With respect to these disruptive powers, the review board found that CSIS had

failed to adequately consider the potentially serious adverse effects on people and their families when using its powers to disrupt potential threats.

The review agency also found that the federal spy agency

takes an “overly narrow” approach when determining whether a judicial warrant is required for a particular threat disruption measure.

RI President Peggy Mason comments:

In plain English, this means that CSIS is not necessarily applying for a warrant in all circumstances where the law requires it to do so.

These new findings by the review agency follow rulings by the Federal Court, in both 2020 and 2021, that even when CSIS does apply for a warrant, they may withhold information relevant to the applications.

In 2020 Justice Patrick Gleeson wrote:

The circumstances [of withholding information] raise fundamental questions relating to respect for the rule of law, the oversight of security intelligence activities and the actions of individual decision-makers.

In the 2021 case, Justice Henry Brown gave the following reasons for CSIS’s failure to provide pertinent information:

Both breaches occurred through a combination of institutional and systemic negligence….

Disruption measures that limit Charter rights require a judicial warrant

The review agency in its latest report made clear that

it expects CSIS to seek a judicial warrant when proposing a threat reduction measure that would limit someone’s Charter rights, or that would otherwise be contrary to Canadian law, whether at the direct hand of CSIS or that of an outside party to whom CSIS disclosed information.

In a written response accompanying the report, CSIS disagreed with the review agency’s recommendation that it “appropriately consider” the effects of outside party actions when determining whether a warrant is required. comments:

CSIS is disagreeing with a review agency finding on a fundamental issue — the circumstances in which there is a requirement for a judicial warrant even when CSIS is using a third party to carry out its “unprecedented” disruption measures.

Tim McSorley, National Coordinator of the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, has called for a suspension of these measures and a government referral of their use by CSIS to the Federal Court.

Whither Canada?

We call upon the Government of Canada to immediately refer to the Federal Court the issue of judicial warrants in relation to CSIS’s use of its disruptive powers through third parties.

Facilitating humanitarian aid to Afghanistan — at last

Included in the foreign policy commitments in the budget is a pledge to provide $16 million over two years for the implementation of legislation that will allow humanitarian organizations to operate in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Readers will recall that has been calling for such legislation since June 2022, and we applaud the government’s introduction of Bill C-41 to that end in March of this year. A backgrounder on the legislation, now before the Justice Committee after Second Reading, states in part:

This legislation would amend one of the Criminal Code’s anti-terrorist financing offences to facilitate the delivery of much-needed international assistance, immigration activities, and other assistance in geographic areas controlled by terrorist groups.

The amendments would create a new authorization scheme that would allow those that provide humanitarian and other critical assistance, to apply for an authorization that would be shield them from the risk of criminal liability if the terms and conditions of the authorization are respected.

A press release by #AidforAfghanistan, a coalition of 18 humanitarian organizations, responding to the tabling of the legislation, states in part:

Today, the Canadian government introduced Bill C-41, amending the Criminal Code to allow Canadian aid organizations to provide humanitarian support in Afghanistan without the fear of criminal prosecution. This is a critical and important step toward protecting the ability of humanitarian organizations to provide neutral and impartial aid in Afghanistan and other complex crises.

The statement continues:

This action will bring Canada into better alignment with other nations such as Australia, the U.K. and the United States.

With respect to consideration of Bill C-41 in the Justice Committee, the coalition makes the following pledge:

With today’s announcement, we look forward to continuing to work with all parties in the House of Commons to ensure that the solution allows for a definition of activities that is broad enough to encompass targeted gender programming, including education and healthcare for girls, food, shelter, clothing, and human rights work. We also call on all parties to work collaboratively to ensure this solution comes to fruition quickly.

The statement also reminds readers that the humanitarian situation inside Afghanistan today is dire, with over half of the population in need of humanitarian assistance in circumstances where there is a severe lack of food, medicines and essential supplies. comments:

We welcome this urgently needed legislation and the monies pledged in the federal budget to enable its full implementation. We call on parliamentarians to ensure its swift passage.


The latest NATO WATCH Briefing, available in PDF format here, begins:

The war in Ukraine just became even more toxic and lethal: the UK supply of ‘depleted uranium’ ammunition to Ukraine and Russia’s ‘nuclear sharing’ with Belarus.

In the view of NATO WATCH, with whom we strongly agree, Britain’s announcement that it will supply armour-piercing shells made with depleted uranium and Russia’s proposed stationing of nuclear weapons in Belarus (allegedly in part a response to the UK step)

represent dangerous and irresponsible escalations of the war in Ukraine.

Diplomatic efforts need to be applied to reverse both decisions and to bring Russia and Ukraine to the negotiating table to end the war.

Putin’s statement on tactical nuclear weapons stationing in Belarus

While Putin mentions the UK decision in his 25 March statement that Moscow would station tactical nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory, his main justification is NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements:

In Putin’s words:

There is nothing unusual here either: firstly, the United States has been doing this for decades…They have long deployed their tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of their allied countries….

We agreed that we will do the same….

In the view of NATO WATCH, however:

President Putin has already shown that statements and actual deployments are two different things.

They cite the “skepticism” of Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists that Russia will be in a position to physically deploy these weapons to Belarus “at any time in the near future.”

But even if Putin’s intention is only to create a “bargaining chip” for future negotiations, NATO WATCH cautions that

Making the announcement, and worse, following through, normalises the practice of nuclear sharing and reduces the pressure for change [by NATO].

UK decision to supply depleted uranium ammunition to Ukraine

While armour-piercing rounds of ammunition that contain depleted uranium are designated as “conventional”, not nuclear, weapons,  they are toxic enough to require special handling and pose an environmental threat as well.

Despite the lack of prohibitions on their use in any current international agreement, a spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General told a press conference on 21 March 2023:

Well, you’ll have seen the concerns we’ve expressed over the years about any use of depleted uranium, given the consequences of such usage, and those would apply to anyone who provides such armaments.

The NATO WATCH briefing outlines efforts by a global coalition of 160 groups in 33 countries, the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW), to obtain a global ban. They reference a regular UN General Assembly resolution on this issue underlining the importance of cooperation and information sharing among states to better understand the health and environmental impacts, writing:

The UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the latest iteration of the resolution by a recorded vote of 145 in favour to 5 against (France, Israel, Liberia, United Kingdom, United States), with 23 abstentions [by NATO member states] on 7 December 2022.

What should happen next?

In the final section of the briefing NATO WATCH states:

Both these decisions … represent political and technical escalation and are dangerous, even if their direct threat may be ambiguous.

Rather than supplying these dangerous munitions “into a scorched earth battlefield”, NATO WATCH urges the UK to

place an immediate moratorium on the transfer and use of depleted uranium weapons and work towards their ban.

They urge Russia to

reconsider its decision to ‘share’ nuclear weapons with Belarus and instead redouble its effort to hold NATO’s feet to the fire on its nuclear sharing practices that undermine non-proliferation.

China and mediation

Urging Russia to take up China’s “tacit offer” to mediate a ceasefire in the war, NATO WATCH concludes:

As part of post-war security arrangements, Russia and NATO need to address the issue of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe within a broader discussion around European security in a manner that respects everyone’s need for security. comments:

NATO WATCH is a rare voice of sanity in a situation where an increasingly mindless military “logic” continues to prevail, as the “status report” in the next section makes only too clear.

Russia–Ukraine War status report

The Belfer Centre Russia-Ukraine Task Force report for 28 March 2023 states the following:

No major changes—battlefield stalemate continues. ….Net territorial change in the past month: Russia +40 miles.

More on the International Criminal Court and Putin’s war crimes charges

Professor Paul Rogers has written an intriguing article entitled Could Putin’s war crimes charges give ICC more authority over Western leaders? (, 25 March 2023)

In a nutshell, his argument is:

Comparisons between the destruction in Iraq and Ukraine could boost the International Criminal Court’s authority in the West.

He further states:

The immediate response to the ICC decision [to charge Putin with war crimes] was to cover it as another deserved criticism of Putin, laying heavy blame on him for the appalling suffering and destruction visited by Russia on Ukraine.

However, the tone of the coverage changed subtly as the media also responded to the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War.

For example:

BBC correspondents reminded people of the destruction across Iraq, whether the early ‘shock and awe’ bombings of Baghdad, the later devastation in cities such as Fallujah, and the much more recent destruction in Ramadi and, especially, the old city of Mosul.

Damage here was easily on a par with that in Mariupol.

It is Professor Rogers’ hope that the prospect of such coverage in future — and comparisons in real time — will cause Western political leaders “to be more cautious” when deciding about war.

He concludes:

The ICC may have discovered, perhaps inadvertently, that the decision to indict Putin has ramifications that give the court an authority that many of those who supported its establishment over 20 years were wanting from the start.

Photo credit: Government of Canada (Radarsat Constellation Mission) is a public outreach project of the Rideau Institute linking Canadians working together for peace. We depend on your donations as we accept no funding from government or industry to protect our independence. Thank you for your support….  

Tags: Afghanistan, Bill C-41, Canada, CSIS, Federal Budget 2023, Humanitarian aid, NATOWATCH, NSIRA, terrorists, TRM, Ukraine