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OTTAWA - Public Safety Minister Vic Toews won't say why Canada's spy agency stood back and let the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation brief the RCMP about navy spy Jeffrey Delisle.
Toews came under fire in question period about a Canadian Press report that said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had Delisle under surveillance for months in 2011 before the RCMP stepped in to build a criminal case.
In an unusual twist, the FBI sent the RCMP a detailed letter outlining Delisle's activities because CSIS feared sharing its file could result in sensitive trade secrets spilling out in open court.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair pressed Toews on whether the FBI — not CSIS — informed the Mounties about Delisle.
Toews would say only that he doesn't get involved in operational security matters and that the conclusions drawn in the news report were "totally incorrect."
He later added: "Information is shared between law enforcement agencies in accordance with Canadian law."
His office declined to make Toews available for an interview and did not immediately respond to followup questions about the minister's remarks.
Toews' statement that things were handled according to the law "tells us nothing" because the problem may have been that agencies felt they couldn't share information, said Liberal MP Bob Rae, who once led a probe of the 1985 Air India disaster that looked at relations between CSIS and the RCMP.
"I just think it's a real problem for Canada and it's something we need to deal with," Rae said.
"It's incumbent upon the government now to have an inquiry to tell us what did happen. The minister says he can't tell us. Then we've got to get to the bottom of it in a profound way."
Delisle, arrested last year by the RCMP, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to passing classified material to Russia in exchange for cash on a regular basis for more than four years.
Both CSIS and the RCMP declined to provide comment for the initial story about CSIS's involvement in the case.
However, CSIS spokeswoman Tahera Mufti said Monday in a statement that the spy service "can't comment on operational details about specific investigations, but please note that national security investigations, from espionage to terrorism, are often team efforts involving domestic and international partners.
"The Service works with many trusted partners in different places and in different ways to protect Canada's security interests," she added. "CSIS and the RCMP have specific protocols to ensure the appropriate transfer of information and intelligence between the two agencies and allowing each agency to fulfil its mandate.
"Second, it's worth noting that the 20-year conviction of Delisle was a historic first and points to the fact that it was a successful national security investigation."