OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's spy service can in exceptional circumstances use information that has been obtained by a foreign country through torture if it will save Canadian lives, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said on Tuesday.
"Information obtained by torture is always discounted, but the problem is, can one safely ignore it if Canadian lives and property are at stake?" Toews asked in the House of Commons.
He was responding to a question about a directive that he issued in 2010 to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), a copy of which was obtained by the Canadian Press news agency under access-to-information legislation.
Under a 2009 ministerial order, CSIS was told it must not knowingly rely on information derived from torture. Expanding on this, the 2010 directive says it may not be possible to determine how a foreign agency obtained information and in "exceptional circumstances" it may represent "an unacceptable risk to public safety" to ignore it.
"Therefore, in situations where a serious risk to public safety exists, and where lives may be at stake, I expect and thus direct CSIS to make the protection of life and property its overriding priority, and share the necessary information - properly described and qualified - with appropriate authorities," Canadian Press quoted the directive as saying.
Canadian Press said a CSIS official had told a House committee in 2009 that the spy agency would overlook the origin of information if it could prevent a repeat of such events as the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States or the 1985 bombing of an Air India jetliner.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney drew hoots of opposition when, in answer to another question in the House, he said: "Of course we oppose the use of torture, but we believe that Canada's security agencies should prioritize, yes, the protection of life."
Opposition New Democratic Party legislator Jack Harris told reporters afterwards that this policy would only encourage those countries that use torture.
"We're here to point out that what they're saying is wrong, that it's repugnant, that it ought to be changed," he said.
Reporting by Randall Palmer and Louise Egan; Editing by Peter Galloway