A committee of parliamentarians says it wants assurances the defence department has clear legislative backing to conduct intelligence operations.

It is recommending the Liberal government give serious consideration to drafting specific laws that will govern when such missions can take place.

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians released its first annual report on Tuesday. The report pays special attention to military intelligence — which, unlike the country’s other spy services, has never faced external review or oversight.

The committee expressed concern about how much legal consultation is done internally before intelligence operations are launched by the military.

The ministerial directive requires the deputy minister and the chief of the defence staff to seek legal opinion within government before authorizing sensitive defence operations.

The committee did not conduct an in-depth examination of any one area of defence intelligence in this first-ever review. Instead, it chose to examine what the military branch was up to and how it functions.

Rennie Marcoux, the executive director of the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians, and Liberal MP David McGuinty release the team’s first annual report. (Benoit Roussel/CBC)

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said he’ll review DND’s oversight processes in light of the report’s conclusions but wouldn’t commit to a legal framework.

“We’re going to reflect on the recommendations that have been made,” he told reporters Tuesday.

The committee will conduct a further assessment this year of how the military collects and utilizes the information it has about Canadian citizens.

It also underlined the importance of keeping watch over defence intelligence.

National Defence “conducts a broader range of intelligence activities than any other Canadian intelligence organization,” said the report, noting that the department has human sources of intelligence and is responsible for signals and online intelligence.

It examined 4,500 pages of internal defence department documents.

Liberal Chairman of National Security and Intelligence Committe of Parliament David McGuinty explains why the committee recommends specific legislation to govern the Canadian Armed Forces intelligence apparatus. 1:13
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