U.S. may have access to Canadian satellite
Grits refuse to let MPs view confidential documents
Description: Ottawa may have given the United States carte blanche to commandeer a sophisticated Canadian satellite for military offensives and intelligence gathering - even if those actions run contrary to Canadian foreign policy, opposition MPs and internationa
Date: 07 March 2005
Author: Dan Lett and Paul Samyn
Source: Winnipeg Free Press, A1
Ottawa may have given the United States carte blanche to commandeer a sophisticated Canadian satellite for military offensives and intelligence gathering - even if those actions run contrary to Canadian foreign policy, opposition MPs and international legal experts have charged. The Liberal government has so far refused to allow MPs on the House of Commons standing committee on foreign affairs and international trade to view a confidential annex attached to a 2000 treaty between Canada and the United States which details U.S. access to Radarsat-2, a privately owned satellite to be launched later this year under license by Canada.
The treaty and the annex are to be enshrined in Bill C-25, now being studied by the committee. The bill, which Liberals have described as "housekeeping" legislation, outlines rules for the licensing of commercial satellites and penalties for the improper or unauthorized use of remote sensing technology. However, despite the fact MPs will be asked at some point to vote on C-25, they are being denied access to the full details of the treaty.
"The problem is that we can only speculate about what's in that document," said NDP MP Alexa McDonough. "How can legislators pass legislation when we don't have all the details? If this is a precedent for what this government is prepared to ram through... it's very dangerous."
Tory MP Ted Menzies said the Liberals on the committee have frustrated opposition attempts to reveal details about U.S. access to Radarsat-2. 'Shutter control'
The committee has formally asked Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew to release all parts of the 2000 treaty to ensure Canada retains final control over who uses Radarsat-2 data, Menzies said. All that departmental officials will say is that Canada retains "shutter control," which refers to Ottawa's power to control images downloaded from the satellite.
"Does the minister have the power to trump this annex in the treaty?" Menzies asked. "They claim the minister has shutter control, but they won't tell us if the annex trumps the minister."
Defence Minister Bill Graham said decisions about U.S. access to Radarsat-2 have yet to be made.
"I am not sure things like this have been even thought about," Graham said. "On the other hand, we certainly do share intelligence with the United States about what is taking place in North America and, clearly, if there was any threat to North America, we would share with them, that is both our obligation and in our interests to share that information with them."
The federal government has contributed nearly $430 million to Radarsat-2, which is built and owned by MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, a British Columbia aerospace firm. The satellite will generate the world's most sophisticated and accurate remote sensing data when it is launched later this year or early next year.
MPs have been told Canada retains priority access to the satellite for national security, protecting the Canadian military, supporting the RCMP or "conduct of international relations or the performance of Canada's international obligations."
Michael Byers, a Canadian international law expert at Duke University and the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia, said the reference to international relations and obligations is a direct reference to a 2000 treaty between Canada and the U.S. on the use of Radarsat-2.
The U.S., for example, has a strategic interest in ensuring high-resolution images of its military and government installations, or of U.S. forces in a theatre of war, are not available to on the open market, Byers said. Similarly, U.S. law prohibits commercial satellite imagery of territory within nations such as Israel, to assist with national and regional security, he added. The details of the treaty annex have never been discussed in a public forum. However, Byers said it almost certainly outlines the scenarios under which the U.S. can "conscript" Radarsat-2 for security and military tasks, many of which would be contrary to Canadian privacy and human rights law, or run against foreign policy.
U.S. priority access to the satellite for military purposes is more than pure speculation, Byers noted. Last year, MacDonald Dettwiler signed a contract with the U.S. Air Force to test the satellite's performance in combat situations.
"What I'm worried about is that if the satellite had already been in the air, the terms of this treaty mean it could have been used to take high-quality images of Iraq prior to the invasion," Byers said. "I'm not sure the Canadian public would want us to provide that kind of support to a war we oppose."
Former Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy, now the president of the University of Winnipeg, negotiated the 2000 remote sensing treaty on behalf of Canada. Axworthy said in an interview the treaty and its annex were negotiated in direct response to U.S. concerns about Radarsat-2.
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