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Bill rises again for 'royal' treatment of European guests

Written By doni icha on Kamis, 29 Januari 2015 | 21.16

It was a grand affair — which is just as well. For $162,863, you want more than cheese dip and some dried-up carrots.

But then, the plan called for "royal" treatment of the visitors. The Prime Minister's Office had insisted on that when Herman Van Rompuy, then president of the European Council, and José Manuel Barroso, then head of the European Commission, stopped in Ottawa last Sept. 26.

After all, the occasion marked the end of negotiations — OK, nearly the end — for the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the long-sought free-trade agreement between Canada and the European Union.

And the PMO could hardly complain that it wasn't royal enough. The food, the drinks and the room at Toronto's Royal York Hotel cost a little north of $50,000.

But only a cheapskate would leave it at that. And, in a new update to an earlier disclosure that pegged overall costs at $121,454, it seems the bill has edged substantially upwards — by about $40,000.

In a just-released written reply to Arnold Chan, the Liberal MP for Scarborough-Agincourt, the government reveals that flying 17 staffers from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to Toronto cost $23,000. A motorcade to get everyone from downtown Ottawa to the airport cost $21,000. Vehicle rentals added $12,000 more.

A previous disclosure revealed the event caused $9,533 in overtime for the RCMP.

But the entertainment at the Royal York beano was surely a bargain — just $10,400 to bring in a military band and Canadian quartet The Tenors to serenade guests as they rubbed shoulders with the European delegation.

Harper EU 20140926

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, centre, arrives with Herman Van Rompuy, left, then-president of the European Council, and José Manuel Barroso, right, then-president of the European Commission, in Toronto Sept. 26 for a reception to promote the Canada-EU trade deal. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

True, the European leaders had already enjoyed a full-dress reception on Parliament Hill — inspection of the honour guard, parade down the Hall of Honour, signing ceremony, the works. And, true, the visitors had a commercial flight booked back from Ottawa to Brussels.

But the government insisted they stay for a second reception in Toronto, to meet the business elite. And nobody was going to tell Jose Manuel Barroso to — what? Grab a cab to the airport and take the red-eye? And end up cooling his heels in a transit lounge in Frankfurt?

That wouldn't do. So the government famously agreed to fly the guests home to Brussels in the prime minister's Airbus, at a cost of at least $300,000.

CETA summit reception expenses, DFATD

A list of reception expenses paid by the Department of Foreign Affairs, released this week. (Dept. of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development)

That much we knew — and, next to that, the reception may seem like a trifle. But it had to be done right. It seems the backdrops for the stage — just the backdrops — cost more than $19,000. The staging and the audio-visual setup added nearly $15,000 to that.

But the translation was a steal! Just $919 to translate both the program and the menu!

In fairness, it was a pretty big affair. The guest list included a who's-who of Canadian business: bankers, auto executives, BlackBerry, SNC Lavalin, Bombardier, Tim Horton's and, of course, Mercedes-Benz. CBC News has learned that members of the Conservative Party's National Council were also invited.

So — was it worth it? Buried in the answer to Arnold Chan's question, the government's written reply handles the matter tactfully.

It says that it has "no information with regard to a value-for-money assessment for the Toronto event."

CBC is not responsible for 3rd party content

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'What's a Tim Hortons' voter? New dictionary explains

A new online dictionary is seeking to demystify obscure Canadian parliamentary terms and phrases for the average civilian — or should we say the "Tim Hortons' voter?"

If you've ever wanted to know who "Premier Dad" is, or what the name of a popular orange carbonated beverage has to do with Canadian politics, look no further.

Parli is a dictionary of Canadian politics started by Campbell Strategies, a public affairs consultancy firm. It was launched earlier this week.

"I think there are a number [of entries] that are amusing," says Barry Campbell, a former Liberal MP and president of the firm.

"This is also serious history, but I think top of the list of most amusing and almost forgotten might be 'Salmon-Arm Salute,' which was a rather crude gesture that prime minister [Pierre] Trudeau made from a train car."

Here are a few other entries you can find in the dictionary:

Do you know any other terms that the dictionary is missing? Leave a comment below. To submit terms directly to Parli, head to their website or send a tweet to @parlidotca.

"This will live and keep on going," Campbell says. "We're adding as we go. We will of course, in a very Canadian way, try to be very serious about the definitions but have a little bit of fun, too."

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CSE's Levitation project: Does mass surveillance prevent terrorist attacks?

Mass trolling of internet data — as done by Canada's electronic spy agency in a project dubbed Levitation — can impede cyber spies in the hunt for extremists more than it helps, some security experts argue.

"We've focused too much on bulk collection just because there's a capacity to survey broad swaths of digital communication and collect it and store it, potentially indefinitely," says Adam Molnar, a Canadian security expert teaching at an Australian university.

But that collection may not only be harmful to privacy and civil liberties concerns, but ineffective as well, the Deakin University lecturer argues.

"Even in instances where we see an attack occur, these agencies are drowning in data and they're not even able to follow up on specific leads."

Molnar cites the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the recent Paris attacks as cases where information was gathered on suspects, "but it made very little difference."

In light of Canada's own attacks on soldiers, U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald said Canadians should be asking tough questions.

"It raises a real question about why these Western intelligence agencies that are spending so much money on these very sophisticated means of surveillance can't find individuals who are planning attacks like that?" asks Greenwald.

The constitutional lawyer and author is famous for helping publish a trove of top-secret documents obtained by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden over the past two years. Revelations from the Snowden files have prompted debates about privacy and security around the world.

Greenwald was part of a team from the U.S.-based news site The Intercept who worked in collaboration with CBC News to analyze Canada-related Snowden files.

Those files included a 2012 presentation by a team at Canada's Communications Security Establishment (CSE), which is taxed with electronically monitoring security threats abroad. The presentation revealed CSE's sweeping access to videos, music and documents shared on free file-hosting websites through a project it codenamed Levitation.

Under Levitation, the electronic spy agency was sifting through up to 15 million uploads or downloads each day from around the world as part of a counterterrorism effort. But, according to the presentation, only 350 downloads each month triggered any kind of follow-up — an extremely small portion of the indiscriminately collected data.

The way the program worked was that the CSE tapped into collected metadata on those downloads. It then used the  computer's IP addresses to cross-reference that through at least two wide-reaching databases of metadata held by Canada's spying partners to try to figure out a suspect's identity and to further monitor that person's online activity.

New legislation coming

Questions about the effectiveness of mass surveillance are being raised as the Canadian government plans to introduce new legislation Friday to give security agencies broader powers. The new rules come in the wake of two attacks on Canadian soldiers last year as well as a growing number of extremist incidents around the world.

Wesley Wark, a national security expert, says that no matter how many "interesting needles" come out of the haystack of online data, spy agencies still need to translate that to "usable intelligence" – meaning something they can act on.

"At the end of the day, one piece of good intelligence might be worth it all," says Wark, who is currently at the University of Ottawa.

In its 2012 presentation to its "Five Eyes" spying partners — the group that includes the U.S., U.K., New Zealand and Australia — the CSE mentioned two important successes from the Levitation project.

The first involved the discovery of an uploaded document that outlined the hostage strategy of AQIM, the North African branch of al-Qaeda. That strategy was "disseminated widely," including by the CIA to its overseas counterparts, the CSE presentation says.

glenn greenwald

U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald says Canadians need to ask tough questions about how effective mass surveillance is in light of two attacks on soldiers. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Cyber analysts also unearthed a video of a German hostage from a previously unknown target. That hostage died in late May 2012, months after spies came across the video.

Edgar Fritz Raupach, an engineer working in Nigeria, was killed by his hostage-takers when local soldiers — who were unaware of Raupach's presence — attacked the captors' hideout in an unrelated operation.

Wark cautions that the document — as a presentation by CSE to its spying partners — is inevitably biased toward touting the most favourable results. Ultimately, he says, success in this business depends on whether the findings were timely, didn't consume too many resources and were useful.

"These Canadian documents suggest it can pay off," says Wark. "So, does it pay off? Is it proportionate to the resources we're putting into it? Are there different ways to do it?"

Vital role

It is not known whether the Levitation project is still ongoing. CSE says it can't comment on details of the program, citing the Security of Information Act.

Julian Fantino, the associate minister of national defence, told CBC News in a statement that CSE's foreign signals intelligence have "played a vital role in uncovering foreign-based extremists' efforts to attract, radicalize and train individuals to carry out attacks in Canada and abroad."

"Our government will not sit idly by while terrorists use websites to attract, radicalize and train individuals who threaten our values and freedom."

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino

Julian Fantino, the associate minister of national defence, says the government will "not sit idly by while terrorists use websites to attract, radicalize and train individuals who threaten our values and freedom." (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

As for the new bill coming Friday, Employment Minister Jason Kenney said the objective is to stop attacks before they happen by targeting what's being called incitement to terrorism.

Sources told CBC News that the legislation will give security agencies the ability to obtain and share information now subject to privacy limits, and make it easier for police to detain suspected extremists.

However, Liberal MP Joyce Murray says while there's been calls for the government to tighten up security, privacy concerns must not be forgotten.

"They need to also look at the provisions to protect individual privacy," said Murray. "And the government has failed to do that."

Murray says laws governing the CSE are 14 years out of date and don't touch on metadata.

The so-called data about data — which for email can include information such as recipients, subject lines and dates — falls outside the old laws because it isn't considered "private communication." Only the contents of an email or a conversation during a phone call are considered a communication.

Big topic in U.S.

While there has been relatively little debate in Canada weighing privacy concerns in the face of security fears, it's been a hot topic in the U.S. since most of the Snowden revelations involve CSE's counterpart, the National Security Agency.

Last year, a Washington-based non-profit analyzed 225 terrorism cases inside the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and found that bulk collection of phone records by NSA had "no discernible impact" on preventing acts of terrorism.

The non-profit New America Foundation said the bulk collection of phone metadata — which includes phones called and call duration — had, in its view, only marginal impacts on preventing terrorist-related activities.

The organization said in most cases it was traditional law enforcement and investigative methods involving a tip or evidence that resulted in initiating action against an individual or group.

That finding came on the heels of a White House-appointed review committee that drew a similar conclusion. It said that much of the evidence that NSA turned up from tracking phone calls could have "readily been obtained" using standard court orders. It found that the phone metadata collection program was "not essential to preventing attacks."

For Molnar, the lessons from the U.S. are clear. "It tells us that [bulk collection] actually does very little in terms of identifying unknown suspects or actually detecting and preventing attacks before they occur."

Similar analyses on the effectiveness of gathering so much online metadata haven't been done since much less is known about the programs collecting them, says Tamir Israel, a lawyer with the University of Ottawa's Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic.

Ultimately, the invasion of privacy is disproportionate to the benefit, he says.

Earlier this week, a report by Europe's top rights body said that mass surveillance programs are endangering fundamental human rights, including the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said it is"deeply worried" about the use of secrecy laws and secrecy courts — all of which is "very poorly scrutinized."

"In the long term, this type of unfettered surveillance is a really insidious thing that can really have very serious negative impacts on the way democratic institutions work," says Israel.

On mobile? Click here for a look at the step-by-step Levitation process

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New anti-terror bill could put chill on freedom of speech

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last weekend that new anti-terror legislation to be introduced on Friday will, among other things, "criminalize the promotion of terrorism."

Such a move, however, could have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Canada and would not necessarily contribute to effectively fighting domestic extremism, according to legal experts.

The new bill aimed at combating domestic threats was promised by the federal government in the weeks following the October attacks in Quebec and Ottawa that left two members of the Canadian Forces dead.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay suggested that the measures would, among a host of other consequences, allow authorities to target materials that may be contributing to the radicalization of Canadians, particularly online.

The new bill, however, is largely a knee-jerk response to October's attacks and Canada already has the necessary laws on the books to pursue and prosecute people promoting hatred or inciting violence, says Kent Roach, a professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in constitutional and terrorism law.

"The government has the burden before they introduce new laws to demonstrate why it's not possible to prosecute these kinds of offences under existing Canadian law," he says.

"There's a real danger when we make laws in reaction to events with the assumption that those laws will help prevent tragedies from happening again."

Government officials have repeatedly stated that any new legislation would be drafted in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and will not infringe on freedom of expression and religion.

'Glorification' offences

Similar legislation criminalizing the "glorification" of terrorist acts exists in several European countries, and MacKay said last year that the government was reviewing specific laws in the U.K. as a possible template.

Earlier this month, Roach co-authored a working paper with Craig Forcese, an associate professor of law at the University of Ottawa, that analyzed the prospect of a Canadian law targeting glorification of terrorism offences.

'Sometimes these things can become wins for extremists and terrorists. They are trying to provoke further attacks and if the response reinforces their perspective on the state of the world, then it ends up helping their cause. '- Scott Stewart, VP of tactical analysis at Stratfor

Pushing the limits on what kinds of speech are considered criminal may put a "chill" on the dialogue around terrorism, they wrote, particularly in communities where discussing the issues around radicalization and extremism is most critical.

"There are at least two concerns about speech chill: will people not talk about controversial topics because they're worried about being charged under a new offence? And second, will it drive potentially radicalized individuals further underground?" says Roach.

When people don't feel free to talk about the political, religious and ideological elements of extremism, Canadian society won't be able to address the underlying forces that drive people toward radicalization and, in some cases, to acts of violence, says University of Waterloo sociology and legal studies professor Lorne Dawson.

'It's silencing'

Dawson does extensive research within communities dealing with radicalization. He says many people are already reluctant to speak openly about the subject.

"If we expand our laws, it will stoke the fear that people are susceptible to prosecution just by the suggestion that that they may empathize in part with the world view of people that are considered terrorists, but they themselves would never do anything violent or hateful," says Dawson.

"There is already an increasing sense that it is a forbidden topic — it's too potentially dangerous and words could be misconstrued or misunderstood. It's silencing."

While there is no question that extremist networks use the internet to communicate and promote their causes, mounting evidence has shown online activity is not always a driving force on the path to radicalization.

Bob Paulson RCMP

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson in October outlined his force's plan to lead an anti-radicalization program in communities nationwide. These kinds of preventive measures are more effective than clamping down on speech, legal experts say. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

"The internet might be a facilitator, but it's not the cause," says Forcese, who argued in his paper with Roach that contact with a charismatic thought leader is almost certainly the strongest influence on those moving toward extreme viewpoints.

The RCMP has already begun developing an anti-radicalization program in conjunction with local police forces, and if a community leader was inciting people to join extremist movements, their actions are already illegal under the Criminal Code.

Making 'martyrs' of ideas

Similarly, stifling speech plays into the narrative promoted by many extremist groups that Western societies are hypocritical to espouse free speech values while repressing contradictory views. In essence, says Forcese, these kinds of laws can make "martyrs of ideas" and speech that lie within the definition of protected speech. 

The ultimate result is to provide propagandists and recruiters in foreign groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, which are far out of reach of Canadian law, another weapon in their arsenal. 

"Sometimes these things can become wins for extremists and terrorists," says Scott Stewart, vice-president of tactical analysis at Stratfor, a U.S.-based private intelligence and consulting firm.

'It seems to me that Canada's legal house is pretty much in order. The problem in Canada is not that the laws aren't on the books, but rather the enforcement of those laws. '- Kent Roach, U of T law professor

"They are trying to provoke further attacks and if the response reinforces their perspective on the state of the world, then it ends up helping their cause."

On the other hand, it can be helpful to provide resource-strapped counterterrorism forces with additional tools in the uphill battle against homegrown threats. That was the fundamental basis for the laws that were passed in the U.K., and Stewart says Canada's new legislation could be sculpted in the image of those laws.

While critics of the U.K.'s approach to glorification offences argue there is room for abuses, particularly when it comes to the expression of political and religious ideologies, "the British have addressed the possibility of overstepping by surgically applying the laws," says Stewart.

Enforcement of existing laws

While the U.K.'s efforts have arguably been effective, "Canada can already accomplish what the U.K. has done in terms of most prosecutions" under laws already in place, Roach and Forcese wrote.

"It seems to me that Canada's legal house is pretty much in order," says Roach. "The problem in Canada is not that the laws aren't on the books, but rather the enforcement of those laws."

London bombings 2005

The U.K. enacted a series of laws that criminalized the "glorification" of terrorism following the 2005 attacks on London's public transit system that killed 52 people. (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)

For example, Canadian legislation allows for a judge to issue a warrant that would force internet service providers or individual websites to take down material if it can be shown that it falls outside of constitutionally protected speech.

The kinds of terrorist propaganda targeted by U.K. law could largely fall under this category in Canada, according to Roach.

Interestingly, there's no publicly available evidence that the provision has ever been used by Canadian law enforcement since being enacted shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.  

He points to a history of co-operation between MI-5, the U.K.'s domestic intelligence agency, and police forces throughout the country as the primary reason for the U.K.'s ability to keep tabs on homegrown extremism.

'Political posturing'

CBC News reported earlier this month that the new anti-terror legislation will likely include provisions to allow increased information-sharing between federal agencies, currently limited by privacy laws.

Ultimately, pushing the limits of criminalized speech in the digital age "is not going to stop the spread of information and it's not going to reduce the flow of propaganda," asserts Dawson.

Rather, it is intended to convey the message that Canada as a nation is trying to do something to combat domestic threats.

"It's really more political posturing than sound counterterrorism policy."

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John Baird, Rob Nicholson to take Iraq mission questions at committee

The swirl of confusion over the nature and scope of Canada's ongoing military operations in Iraq will take centre stage on the Hill this morning, where a special joint meeting of the House foreign affairs and defence committees will — at least in theory — provide the first official briefing on the mission since the House broke for the holidays in December.

On the witness list for today's 90-minute session: Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, as well as their respective seconds-in-command: Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Daniel Jean and Chief of Defence Staff Tom Lawson.

Likely to be at the top of the agenda, at least for those on the opposition side of the table, will almost certainly be what they see as a growing list of still unanswered questions arising from recent revelations on the extent of Canadian activities near the front lines, which have resulted in Canadian Forces coming under enemy fire on at least three occasions in the last two weeks.

Back in the Chamber, Liberal MPs will spend the day making their respective and collective case for the party's first opposition day motion of the new year, which would, if passed, see the House express its non-binding view that the Prime Minister of Canada "should hold annual First Ministers' Conferences."

In what may or may not be a serendipitous twist of timing, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is scheduled to hold a one-on-one First Minister Meeting of his own with visiting Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne later this morning.

This evening, Liberal MP Ted Hsu will make one final attempt to persuade his Commons colleagues to back his private members' bid to restore the long-form census, which is set to undergo a final round of second reading debate.

  • Liberal MP Irwin Cotler teams up with New Democrats Pierre-Luc Dusseault and Wayne Marston, as well as Amnesty International representatives, to call for the release of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi — to whom, the advisory notes, Cotler is now serving as international legal counsel — whose wife, Ensaf Haidar, is also expected to be in attendance.
  • Operation SIRONA Task Force Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Gary O'Neil holds a teleconference to brief reporters on the latest developments in the Canadian Armed Forces' ongoing efforts to respond to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper heads back to Southern Ontario, where he's scheduled to join Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino and local MPs Lois Brown and Roxanne James for a "roundtable discussion" — at York Regional Police headquarters in Aurora.

Elsewhere on the ministerial circuit:

  • Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander will be front and centre at the 2014 Immigration Entrepreneur Awards hosted by the City of Ottawa, which will be handed out at a mid-morning ceremony at a downtown hotel.
  • In Waterloo, International Trade Minister Ed Fast hosts a "Go Global" export workshop alongside Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters president Jayson Meyers.
  • Treasury Board President Tony Clement "continues his nationwide tour" in support of CODE 2015 – The Canadian Open Data Experience" with a stop in Montreal, where he will "share details and highlights" of the upcoming instalment of what his own release calls an "outstanding appathon."
  • Finally, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz joins Saskatchewan Jobs Minister Jeremy Harrison at a Regina-based machine shop, where the pair will reveal the identity of the province's very first Canada Job Grant recipient.

Mobile readers: Follow the Parliament Hill ticker here.

For up to the minute dispatches from the precinct and beyond, keep your eye on the Parliament Hill Ticker:

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New Conservative anti-terror bill needs to walk a fine line, Jason Kenney says

Written By doni icha on Rabu, 28 Januari 2015 | 21.16

There's a fine line between legitimate religious expression and inciting terrorism, says Conservative employment minister Jason Kenney, who also manages the multiculturalism portfolio.

It's that line the government will be walking — carefully — in its new anti-terrorism bill, expected to be unveiled Friday.

The bill is the government's long-awaited legislative response to two attacks carried out on Canadian soldiers last fall by men believed to have been influenced by radical Islam — attacks the government considers acts of terrorism.

Though police already have the power to go after those suspecting of being on the verge of committing terrorist attacks, the new bill is partially aimed at stopping the seeds of those attacks from germinating altogether.

"Our objective is not to diminish legitimate expression of political or religious views, but rather incitement to terrorism — and there is a fine line there that the legislation will try to draw," Kenney said in an interview Tuesday.

"Obviously there are some malevolent religious influences that can add to the process of radicalization towards violent extremism, and we have to be extremely mindful of that."

Radicalization efforts 'somewhere where we do need action': Uppal

How to effectively combat radicalization is a struggle facing governments and security agencies the world over.

The RCMP is currently rolling out its own strategy, which includes working more closely with community groups in order to identify and divert people who may be susceptible to extreme views that could eventually lead to violence.

But the police need broader powers to deal with those doing the radicalizing, suggested Conservative MP Tim Uppal, who is also the minister of state for multiculturalism.

"If the police are doing their investigation and they come across people who are trying to radicalize others, before any type of violence ... I think that's somewhere where we do need some action," Uppal told The Canadian Press recently.

The other problem facing legislators is how to handle radicalization online, which many acknowledge is the primary source of information for young men and women who later end up joining violent causes.

"We need to be able to follow up on and see how we can ensure that we are able to either stop those messages that people are getting, or at least be able to follow up on it in some way," Uppal said.

But Liberal public safety critic Wayne Easter said he wonders why existing anti-terror laws of various kinds haven't been put to full use.

Release of Parliament Hill shooter video now uncertain

"The government has not given us any answer," said Easter, who is calling on the RCMP to release the video Michael Zehaf Bibeau made before he killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial.

RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson has said Zehaf Bibeau appeared "lucid" and "purposeful" in spelling out his motives, which Paulson described as being rooted in his religious beliefs and opinion of Canada's foreign policy.

Paulson initially said he wanted to see the footage released to the public, but has since signalled that may not happen.

Easter said he'd like to know if the message on the video lines up with what federal officials have said about it.

"Maybe it doesn't match with the prime minister's messaging," he said.

"Now, that would be a sad commentary, if the commissioner of the RCMP is being led down that path. But we'll see."

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CSE tracks millions of downloads daily: Snowden documents

Canada's electronic spy agency sifts through millions of videos and documents downloaded online every day by people around the world, as part of a sweeping bid to find extremist plots and suspects, CBC News has learned.

Details of the Communications Security Establishment project dubbed "Levitation" are revealed in a document obtained by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden and recently released to CBC News.

rapidshare cse

Rapidshare was one of three file-sharing websites targeted in the spy agency's surveillance. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Under Levitation, analysts with the electronic eavesdropping service can access information on about 10 to 15 million uploads and downloads of files from free websites each day, the document says.

"Every single thing that you do — in this case uploading/downloading files to these sites — that act is being archived, collected and analyzed," says Ron Deibert, director of the University of Toronto-based internet security think-tank Citizen Lab, who reviewed the document.

In the document, a PowerPoint presentation written in 2012, the CSE analyst who wrote it jokes about being overloaded with innocuous files such as episodes of the musical TV series Glee in their hunt for terrorists.

CBC analyzed the document in collaboration with the U.S. news website The Intercept, which obtained it from Snowden.

The presentation provides a rare glimpse into Canada's cyber-sleuthing capabilities and its use of its spy partners' immense databases to track the online traffic of millions of people around the world, including Canadians.

That glimpse may be of even greater interest now that the Harper government plans to introduce new legislation increasing the powers of Canada's security agencies. 

Though Canada's always been described as a junior partner in the Five Eyes spying partnership, which includes the U.S., Britain, New Zealand and Australia, this document shows it led the way in developing this new extremist-tracking tool.

"It's really the first time that a story has been reported that involves [CSE] as the lead agency in a program of pure mass surveillance," said Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer and journalist with The Intercept, and who has been instrumental in bringing Snowden's information to public attention.

Canada's electronic surveillance service said it cannot comment on the specific program, but added that some of its metadata analysis is designed to identify foreign terrorists who use the internet for activities threatening the security of Canada and Canadians.

On mobile? Click here for Levitation file

"CSE is clearly mandated to collect foreign signals intelligence to protect Canada and Canadians from a variety of threats to our national security, including terrorism," agency spokesman Andrew McLaughlin wrote in an email to CBC.

Deibert, at the Citizen Lab, says that on the surface the Levitation program is reassuring, indicating Canada's spies are doing their job, but he adds that the mass surveillance nature of it raises questions.

'A giant X-ray machine'

According to the document, Canada can access data from 102 free file upload sites, though only three file-host companies are named: Sendspace, Rapidshare and the now-defunct Megaupload.

Sendspace told CBC News that "no organization has the ability/permission to trawl/search Sendspace for data," and its policy states it won't disclose user identities unless legally required.

Tamir Israel CIPPIC

Tamir Israel, an internet policy lawyer, says the program raises questions because it's "completely at the discretion of CSE essentially what documents to pick." (Amber Hildebrandt/CBC News)

No other file-sharing company responded to CBC requests for comment.

However, the Levitation document says that access to the data comes from unnamed "special sources," a term that in previous Snowden documents seemed to refer to telecommunications companies or cable operators.

It is also unclear which, or how many, of the Five Eyes access information on these uploaded files and whether the companies involved know the spy agencies have this access.

Many people use file-sharing websites to share photos, videos, music and documents, but these cyber-lockers have also been accused of being havens for illegally sharing copyrighted content.

Not surprisingly, extremists also use the online storage hubs to share propaganda and training materials.

To find those files, the document says Canada's spy agency must first weed out the so-called Glee episodes as well as pictures of cars on fire and vast amounts of other content unrelated to terrorism.

Analysts find 350 "interesting download events" each month, less than 0.0001 per cent of the total collected traffic, according to the top-secret presentation.

Surveillance specialists can then retrieve the metadata on a suspicious file, and use it to map out a day's worth of that file user's online activity.

By inputting other bits of information into at least two databases created by the spying partners, analysts can discover the identity and online behaviour of those uploading or downloading these files, as well as, potentially, new suspicious documents.

The Levitation project illustrates the "giant X-ray machine over all our digital lives," says Deibert.

From IP to ID

Once a suspicious file-downloader is identified, analysts can plug that IP address into Mutant Broth, a database run by the British electronic spy agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), to see five hours of that computer's online traffic before and after the download occurred.

On mobile? Click here for CSE response

That can sometimes lead them to a Facebook profile page and to a string of Google and other cookies used to track online users' activities for advertising purposes. This can help identify an individual.

In one example in the top-secret document, analysts also used the U.S. National Security Agency's powerful Marina database, which keeps online metadata on people for up to a year, to search for further information about a target's Facebook profile. It helped them find an email address.

After doing its research, the Levitation team then passes on a list of suspects to CSE's Office of Counter Terrorism.

The agency cites two successes as of 2012: the discovery of a German hostage video through a previously unknown target, and an uploaded document that gave it the hostage strategy of a terrorist organization.

It's unclear from the leaked document how long Levitation was operational and whether it is still in use.

CSE says its foreign signals intelligence has "played a vital role in uncovering foreign-based extremists' efforts to attract, radicalize and train individuals to carry out attacks in Canada and abroad." But it offered no specifics about Levitation.

'What else can they do?'

Back in 2012, the spy agency appeared to be assessing the power and accuracy of the Levitation project as compared to other tools in its counterterrorism arsenal.

'The specific uses that they talk about in this context may not be the problem, but it's what else they can do.'- Tech lawyer Tamir Israel

Though the presentation jokes about filtering out Glee episodes, the issue underscores an increasing problem for spy agencies around the world: how the massive haystack of internet traffic they are collecting is straining spy agency resources.

Projects like Levitation aim to automate part of the process.

But it also causes some people to worry about what these powerful and secretive agencies can do with such an immense store of data at their fingertips.

"The specific uses that they talk about in this context may not be the problem, but it's what else they can do," says Tamir Israel, a lawyer with the University of Ottawa's Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic.

National security expert Wesley Wark says the Levitation documents clearly demonstrate the CSE's abilities. But he also warns the tool has the potential to be "hugely intrusive."

A recent story by The Guardian illustrates that potential. The British newspaper revealed that that the GCHQ scooped up emails to and from journalists working for some of the largest American and British media outlets, as part of a test exercise.

The story, based on Snowden documents, says GCHQ has also listed investigative journalists as a "threat" who rank somewhere between terrorists and hackers.

A similar issue could arise here, with the eavesdropping service choosing targets outside the terrorism realm, says Israel.

Academics, lawyers, journalists, activists and business people commonly use file-hosting sites as part of their jobs.

"It's completely at the discretion of CSE essentially what documents to pick," Israel says.

The mass surveillance by Canada's signals intelligence agency also raises questions about the number of Canadians inadvertently caught up in it.

In the Levitation presentation, two anonymous Canadian IP addresses from a Montreal-based data server appear on a list of suspicious downloads around the world. The list also included several from allies and trading partners, including the U.K., U.S., Spain, Brazil, Germany and Portugal.

By law, CSE isn't allowed to target Canadians. Canada's commissioner charged with reviewing the secretive group found it unintentionally swept up private communications of 66 Canadians while monitoring signals intelligence abroad, but concluded there was no sign of unlawful practice.

Canada is supposed to mask the identities of untargeted Canadians scooped up in its surveillance before passing information to its Five Eyes partners and law enforcement agencies.

Deibert says there are "all sorts of grey areas" in how CSE operates, including how long they can retain the data they collect, the volume of the mass collection, the rules around metadata and how this data is shared with spying partners.

"The mission is appropriate," he says. "But is engaging in wholesale mass surveillance the appropriate means to that end? Especially in the context where, in this country, you have very little oversight in any meaningful sense."

On mobile? Click here to see how spies track file downloads

CBC is working with U.S. news site The Intercept to shed light on Canada-related files in the cache of documents obtained by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden. The CBC News team  Dave Seglins, Amber Hildebrandt and Michael Pereira  collaborated with The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher to analyze the documents. For a complete list of the past stories done by CBC on the Snowden revelations, see our topics page. Contact us by email by clicking on our respective names or search for our PGP keys here.

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Federal election 2015: British Columbia setting up to be a 3-way contest

The outcome of the 2015 federal election may be decided in Ontario and Quebec, but British Columbia is shaping up to be the scene of some of the most competitive races in the country.

British Columbia is a real three-way contest. The latest poll averages put the Liberals at 31 per cent, against 28 per cent for the Conservatives and 26 per cent for the New Democrats. That five-point gap between first and third is the smallest in the country and is less than half the size of the margin between the first-place Liberals and third-place Bloc Québécois in Quebec.

And that means all three parties can win a significant number of seats in B.C.

Based on current support levels, the Conservatives would be able to win between 13 and 18 of the province's 42 seats, with the Liberals taking between 12 and 14, the New Democrats between 10 and 13, and the Greens as many as two.

This means the NDP is in a good position to hold the 12 seats they won in 2011, but the Conservatives could come down from the 21 they took in the last election. The Liberals, who only captured two B.C. seats in 2011, could be en route to their best performance in the province since 1968.

BC polling, Jan. 27

Weighted average of polls in British Columbia. (ThreeHundredEight.com)

Polls done since the beginning of December have ranged widely in the province, with the Liberals scoring between 27 and 45 per cent, the Conservatives between 19 and 36 per cent, and the NDP between 20 and 30 per cent. Each of these three parties has led in at least one of the last nine polls done in B.C.

Overall, however, the Liberals have been leading in the province since early December, when the Conservatives slipped slightly below 30 per cent. The New Democrats, meanwhile, have been improving their standing significantly since dropping to almost 20 per cent in November.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has respectable numbers in B.C., scoring higher there on approval than anywhere except Quebec. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is also popular in the province — only in Atlantic Canada are his numbers better. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's ratings in B.C., on the other hand, are his worst west of Quebec.

Local contests

But if the country has its regional races, British Columbia also has its own sub-regional races. In only parts of the province are all three parties truly competitive.

The Conservatives look relatively secure in the Fraser Valley and the B.C. Interior, but in both regions of the province they can expect some tight battles with the New Democrats.

The NDP is better positioned in Burnaby and on Vancouver Island, where they would be favoured in most ridings. But on the island, the party is facing a new opponent in the Greens. Elizabeth May's party is currently polling at around 12 per cent provincewide and has its sights set on the riding of Victoria, which the Greens very nearly won in a 2012 byelection.

In Vancouver itself, the Liberals look poised to win a lot of new seats, squaring off with the NDP and Conservatives in a few of them.

Surrey could be one of the most interesting battlegrounds in the country. In the city's five seats, the Liberals are at play in four, the Conservatives in three and the NDP in two.

Battleground Alberta?

Less dramatic, though no less interesting, could be Alberta. The province that has been a solid Conservative bastion for ages (the party has won all or all but one of the seats in the province in each of the last three elections) is at no risk of turning over to one of the opposition parties. But that sea of blue could see a few more flecks of red and orange in 2015.

The Conservatives currently lead in the province with about 55 per cent support, followed by the Liberals at 24 per cent and the NDP at 14 per cent. The overall trend line in Alberta has been very steady for some time, and with current support levels the Conservatives would likely win 29 to 30 seats, with the NDP holding on to their one.

Alberta polling, Jan. 27

Weighted average of polls in Alberta. (ThreeHundredEight.com)

But on current support levels, the Liberals could potentially take three to four seats. That hasn't happened since 1993.

The reason for this is simple: having captured just 9 per cent of the vote in 2011, the party is now polling at almost three times that level of support. That gives them better than even odds in some individual ridings in Edmonton and Calgary, where, despite the Liberals' poor provincewide showing in the last election, they managed to capture 20 per cent of the vote or more.

Outside of the two big cities, the Conservatives should be in no danger. But the Liberals could make for some interesting contests in Calgary especially, and the New Democrats in Edmonton, where they could potentially pick up a second seat.

The political jostling here will pale in comparison to the epic battles in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia. But with the 2015 election looking extremely close at this stage, every seat will count.

ThreeHundredEight.com's vote and seat projection model aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm's accuracy record. Upper and lower ranges are based on how polls have performed in other recent elections. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all ridings in the country, based on regional shifts in support since the 2011 election and taking into account other factors such as incumbency. The projections are subject to the margins of error of the opinion polls included in the model, as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level. The polls included in the model vary in size, date, and method, and have not been individually verified by the CBC. You can read the full methodology here.

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ISIS fight: Canadian advisers guiding airstrikes but U.S. barred from doing same

U.S. soldiers are not allowed to direct airstrikes on ISIS positions in Iraq, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, a practice that their Canadian military allies have been engaged in despite it being seen by some as a combat manoeuvre.

The Canadian government has acknowledged that Canadian advisers have been acting as forward observers, calling in airstrikes on ISIS positions and marking the targets with lasers.

But those roles are seen as combat roles. U.S. military Cmdr. Elissa Smith at the Pentagon told CBC News that that particular role — sometimes called JTAC or joint terminal attack controller — is one U.S. advisers on the ground in Iraq are barred from doing. 

"The advisers are assisting with planning ground operations, intelligence sharing, integrating air support into their operations, not as JTACs, but as planners," Smith said. "Their movements are carefully planned in advance in order to ensure that they are not inadvertently put into combat situations.

"We've been very clear that U.S. advisers are removed from actual or expected combat situations as part of our advise and assist mission in Iraq." 

'Definitely combat'

Last week, Brig.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, the commander of Canadian special forces, said his soldiers have directed 13 strikes.

Walter Dorn, who teaches defence studies to Canadian officers at Royal Military College, said what the JTACs are engaged in is "definitely combat."

"It's not just self-defence. It's actually engaging in combat and making a difference on the ground, in the field. And we originally said we are not going in there to engage in combat," he said.

When it comes to airstrikes, Steve Day, the former commander of Canada's elite JTF2 unit, said Western air forces always prefer to have their own trained soldiers guiding those attacks.

"The gold standard is to always receive intelligence from your own Western sources. So, it's always best, especially in built-up areas, to have a Western set of eyes looking at the target."

This is another case where Canadian forces seem to be going further than their coalition allies — at least publicly.

Military advisers in firefights

Although the U.S. is leading the coalition, officials say American military advisers aren't accompanying Iraqi forces on the frontlines. But Canadians have gone close to the frontlinesAt one point, the military estimated Canadian advisers spent 20 per cent of the time there. And those advisers have now been involved in three firefights.

In response to a question from CBC News on Monday, a spokeswoman for the Combined Joint Task Force, which is co-ordinating the international coalition's mission in Iraq, said, "Canada is the only coalition member whose soldiers have been involved in firefights."

The spokeswoman said she couldn't explain why, but when asked again on Tuesday by CBC News, she added:

"I can only respond on incidents that have been confirmed and reported to the high headquarters. The incidents with the Canadians are the only incidents that [have] been reported." 

However, Britain's Mail on Sunday, citing sources, reported that the U.K.'s elite SAS troops, who were officially in Iraq in a reconnaissance role, were conducting raids against ISIS fighters last November.

Countries rarely discuss special forces activities

David Perry, a senior security and defence analyst for the CDA Institute, said countries often don't want to talk about what their special forces are up to.

"We've seen it before in Libya and Afghanistan," he said. "Different governments for different reasons have been very reluctant and sensitive to discuss what their special operations forces do when they're out there on the ground."

Asked about the rules of engagement back in September, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canadian troops were in Iraq "to advise and to assist. It is not to accompany."

But Harper was hammered in question period Tuesday about whether the government misled Canadians about the mission in Iraq,

He said that Canadian troops are executing the mission that Canadians and Parliament have given them. 

"They are advising, they are assisting," he said. "Guess what, if fired upon, they are going to shoot back; and if they kill some of the ISIL terrorists, Canadians are going to support that, no matter what the New Democrats think."

CDS meets Kurdish officials

An Iraqi news agency, BasNews, reported Tuesday that Chief of Defence Staff Tom Lawson was in Erbil over the weekend to meet with Kurdish officials, including Masrour Barzani, the chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council.

Canada's Defence Department confirmed Lawson's travel to the region later in the day, saying the purpose of the meetings was to "exchange information, and to update them on Canada's ongoing contributions to the advise and assist mission."

The CDS also delivered a new shipment of non-lethal military gear from Canada, including clothing to equip the Iraqis for cold weather.

Canada's combat mission is up for renewal in April.

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Bid to boost CSIS powers back on House agenda

With just two days to go before the government unveils its latest bid to crack down on terrorism, terrorists and terror-related activities, Government House Leader Peter Van Loan has served notice that he intends to impose a deadline on House debate over a related bill introduced last fall — C-44, which would expand the power and scope of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, most notably by giving the agency the explicit authority to track persons of interest overseas.

On Tuesday evening, Van Loan advised his Commons colleagues that he will move time allocation on that discussion, which is scheduled to resume — and, depending on that motion, very possibly conclude — at report stage this afternoon.

Before that gets underway, however, MPs are set to spend the morning engaged in what will undoubtedly be lively discussion behind the closed doors of their respective caucus rooms.

Shortly after his party confab wraps up, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is expected to hold court in the Centre Block press theatre — an uncharacteristically formal setting for the traditional post-meeting scrums, but one that staffers aver augurs no major news to impart; they're just giving it a try to see how it works.

Also on the Hill today: Canadian Veterans Advocacy President Mike Blais and veterans advocate Ron Clarke, who will discuss a meeting between Blais and Trudeau on Tuesday, the recent report from the auditor general on mental health services, the closure of Veterans Affairs offices "across Canada," and the government's response to the New Veterans Charter.

Later this evening, the New Veterans Charter — and specifically, the government's response — will be on the agenda at the Polish Combatant's Association Hall, where it will be debated by "parliamentarians and veterans."

Meanwhile, the Senate finance committee is slated to hear from no fewer than four parliamentary agents — Auditor General Michael Ferguson, Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser and Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien — as well as Public Service Commissioner Anne-Marie Robinson as they continue to review Conservative MP Mark Adler's proposal to force anyone applying for a job with a parliamentary officer disclose any and all partisan activity undertaken over the previous decade.

Although a similarly united front against the bill at the House committee stage ultimately resulted in the removal of many of the more controversial provisions, it appears the watchdogs still have concerns over what remains.

Elsewhere on the committee front:

  • National Defence hears from Conference of Defence Associations Institute senior analyst David Perry and Royal Military College professor Ugurhan G. Berkok before moving in camera to discuss future business.

Outside the precinct, the University of Ottawa Common Law Section is hosting a morning symposium on the constitutionality of several "Senate renewal proposal," with University of Manitoba Professor Paul Thomas and University of Ottawa Professor Errol Mendes amongst the scheduled speakers.

Finally, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz heads to Edmonton for FarmTech 2015, where he'll share the details of a new initiative related to "transparency in Canada's crop sector."

Mobile readers: Follow the Parliament Hill ticker here.

For up to the minute dispatches from the precinct and beyond, keep your eye on the Parliament Hill Ticker:

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