Wednesday, 19 Jun 2024

After Tony Clement sexting scandal, should MPs face tougher security screenings?

Parliamentarians appointed to a new national security committee probably aren’t screened as closely as those working for the agencies that committee oversees.

But the Tony Clement sexting scandal will likely prompt questions about whether that needs to change, one former CSIS analyst says.

In an interview with the West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Phil Gurski said he doubts parliamentarians appointed to the new National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, which is tasked with reviewing select activities of Canadian national security agencies, are subjected to anything close to the level of security screening and background checks that happen when someone goes to work for organizations like CSIS or the CSE.

“I don’t know exactly what MPs and cabinet ministers go through in terms of their security clearance but I’d be very surprised if it’s nearly as detailed as what we went through at CSIS and CSE,” said Gurski, who is president and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting and spent 15 years working for CSIS.

“I guess the question now becomes, in the wake of what happened yesterday [Nov. 7] and today [Nov. 8], should that change as far as Parliament is concerned? I’m sure there are other people asking themselves that very same question today.”

Former Conservative MP Tony Clement put out a press release on Nov. 6, the same night as the American midterms.

In it, he admitted to having shared “sexually explicit” photos and a video of himself with someone he had believed to be a consenting female.

He then claimed the individual was instead targeting him “for the purpose of financial extortion” and said he was resigning from his role as Conservative justice critic as well as his various roles on parliamentary committees. Global News has learned the demand was for €50,000.

Clement, who is married with three children, said he had reported the matter to RCMP and the force was investigating.

A spokesperson for the RCMP confirmed an investigation but would not comment on the nature of it.

On the morning of Nov. 7, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he took Clement at his word that the matter was a one-time “lapse in judgment.”

Hours later, Scheer reversed course and said after learning the matter was “not an isolated incident,’ he had asked Clement to resign from the caucus.

Clement was later spotted at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, where he refused to answer questions from a Global News reporter.

Meanwhile, dozens of women online began raising concerns about Clement’s behaviour on social media, in particular sending private messages to young women and liking or commenting on their photos on Instagram.

On Nov. 8, Clement posted a letter on his website in which he admitted to “inappropriate exchanges” and said those had led to multiple acts of infidelity.

He also admitted the “inappropriate exchange” that led to the alleged attempt by what he described as “foreign actors” to extort him was not the first time.

Clement added that last summer, he had had a separate “inappropriate exchange” with another woman who was then offered money by an anonymous social media account to disclose intimate details about him.

He said he reported that account to the Ontario Provincial Police.

EXCLUSIVE: Tony Clement facing alleged extortion demand of 50K euros after sending ‘sexually explicit’ photos, video

But the fact Clement’s online behaviour, which appears to have been a matter of discussion among women both on and off Parliament Hill for some time, did not bring up red flags during his security screening for his appointment to the new national security committee raises serious questions, Gurski said.

Normally, he said, national security agencies screening potential employees will do “intrusive” research into a candidate’s background.

For secret-level clearances, that can involve going back at least 10 years into an individual’s past to look for potential issues that could make them ripe for exploitation.

“It seems to me that either those questions are not asked of MPs who are given clearances to have access to this material as part of the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians or – and I don’t know this to be true, I’ll simply put it out there on a speculative sort of basis – was the question asked and it was answered incorrectly?” Gurski said.

“Rather, was there any attempt by Mr. Clement to hide this behaviour, which I understand has been going on for a little while?”

Scheer acknowledged last week that the national security agencies that screened Clement were not aware of the matter.

He also said he could not speculate on whether Clement may have been targeted specifically because of his membership on the committee.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has so far refused to comment when asked about the matter and Clement’s role on the committee.

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