Spy agency’s new Ottawa compound to include hiking trails, basketball courts

Andy Radia

There's an old saying that goes: 'if you want the truth, follow the money.'

Well, if you want to know where the Harper government's priorities lie, follow the taxpayer money trail.

The Ottawa Citizen is reporting new information about Canada's electronic spy agency's $880 million 775,000 square foot facility currently being built in the Ottawa suburb of Gloucester.

Internal documents obtained by the newspaper show that the new Communications Security Establishment Canada compound — set to open in 2014 — will include basketball and volleyball courts, a bank, a 400-seat conference centre, a library and onsite hiking trails, all in an attempt to attract the "best and brightest" workforce.

But don't worry: the originally planned hockey rink and hobby garden have apparently been taken off the drawing board.

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The Citizen also notes that the government has labelled the building "Camelot" while union officials have dubbed it the "Taj Mahal."

Whatever it's called, it's lavish and expensive and it's being built at a time when other government departments are being expected to cut costs.

CSEC, which uses technology to hear what people are saying abroad, now has a budget of about $350 million a year and has doubled in size since 2001. Moreover, while other government departments faced cuts of up to 10 per cent in Budget 2012, CSEC escaped with only a 2 per cent slice.

It's a similar story at Canada's more high profile spy agency.

According to Rabble.ca, Canadian Security Intelligence Service funding has increased by 160 per cent, from less than $200 million in 2001 to $511 million in 2010. And, in 2012, the Harper government only cut 1.5 per cent of CSIS's half-billion dollar annual budget.

The Camelot/Taj Mahal along with the sustained spending are a clear indicators that the Harper government is serious about boosting their spy capabilities.

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At a time when security and intelligence issues loom large with regards to arctic sovereignty, corporate espionage and continued terrorist threats, maybe that's not such a bad thing.