Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, colleagues. Thank you for your invitation to appear before your committee. I am joined by Rennie Marcoux, executive director of the Secretariat of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, or NSICOP.
It's a privilege to be here with you today to discuss the 2018 annual report of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.
The committee's first annual report is the result of the work, the dedication and the commitment from my colleagues on the committee. It is intended to contribute to an informed debate among Canadians on the difficult challenges of providing security and intelligence organizations with the exceptional powers necessary to identify and counter threats to the nation while at the same time ensuring that their activities continue to respect and preserve our democratic rights.
NSICOP has the mandate to review the overall framework for national security and intelligence in Canada, including legislation, regulations, policy, administration and finances.
It may also examine any activity that is carried out by a department that relates to national security or intelligence.
Finally, it may review any matter relating to national security or intelligence that a minister refers to the committee.
Members of the committee are all cleared to a top secret level, swear an oath and are permanently bound to secrecy. Members also agree that the nature of the committee, multi-party, drawn from the House of Commons and the Senate, with a broad range of experience, bring a unique perspective to these important issues.
In order to conduct our work, we are entitled to have access to any information that is related to our mandate, but there are some exceptions, namely, cabinet confidences, the identity of confidential sources or protected witnesses, and ongoing law enforcement investigations that may lead to prosecutions.
The year 2018 was a year of learning for the committee. We spent many hours and meetings building our understanding of our mandate and of the organizations responsible for protecting Canada and Canadians. The committee was briefed by officials from across the security and intelligence community and visited all seven of the main departments and agencies. Numerous meetings were also held with the national security and intelligence adviser to the . NSICOP also decided to conduct a review of certain security allegations surrounding the 's trip to India in February 2018.
Over the course of the calendar year, the committee met 54 times, with an average of four hours per meeting. Annex E of the report outlines the committee's extensive outreach and engagement activities with government officials, academics and civil liberties groups.
The annual report is a result of extensive oral and written briefings, more than 8,000 pages of printed materials, dozens of meetings between NSICOP analysts and government officials, in-depth research and analysis, and thoughtful and detailed deliberations among committee members.
The report is also unanimous. In total, the report makes 11 findings and seven recommendations to the government. The committee has been scrupulously careful to take a non-partisan approach to these issues. We hope that our findings and recommendations will strengthen the accountability and effectiveness of Canada's security and intelligence community.
The report before you contains five chapters, including the two substantive reviews conducted by the committee.
The first chapter explains the origins of NSICOP, its mandate and how it approaches its work, including what factors the committee takes into consideration when deciding what to review.
The second chapter provides an overview of the security and intelligence organizations in Canada, of the threats to Canada's security and how these organizations work together to keep Canada and Canadian safe and to promote Canadian interests.
Those two chapters are followed by the committee's two substantive reviews for 2018.
In chapter 3, the committee reviewed the way the government determines its intelligence priorities. Why is this important? There are three reasons.
First, this process is the fundamental means of providing direction to Canada's intelligence collectors and assessors, ensuring they focus on the government's, and the country's, highest priorities.
Second, this process is essential to ensure accountability in the intelligence community. What the intelligence community does is highly classified. This process gives the government regular insight into intelligence operations from a government-wide lens.
Third, this process helps the government to manage risk. When the government approves the intelligence priorities, it is accepting the risks of focusing on some targets and also the risk of not focusing on others.
The committee found that the process, from identifying priorities to translating them into practical guidance, to informing ministers and seeking their approval, does have a solid foundation. That said, any process can be improved.
In particular, the committee recommends that the Prime Minister's national security and intelligence advisor should take a stronger leadership role in the process in order to make sure that cabinet has the best information to make important decisions on where Canada should focus its intelligence activities and its resources.
Moving on, chapter 4 reviews the intelligence activities of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. The government's defence policy, “Strong, Secure, Engaged”, states that DND/CAF is “the only entity within the Government of Canada that employs the full spectrum of intelligence collection capabilities while providing multi-source analysis.”
We recognize that defence intelligence activities are critical to the safety of troops and the success of Canadian military activities, including those abroad, and they are expected to grow. When the government decides to deploy the Canadian Armed Forces, DND/CAF also has implicit authority to conduct defence intelligence activities. In both cases, the source of authority is what is known as the Crown prerogative. This is very different from how other intelligence organizations, notably CSE and CSIS, operate. Each of those organizations has clear statutory authority to conduct intelligence activities, and they are subject to regular, independent and external review.
This was a significant and complex review for the committee, with four findings and three recommendations.
Our first recommendation focuses on areas where DND/CAF could make changes to strengthen its existing internal governance structure over its intelligence activities and to strengthen the accountability of the minister.
The other two recommendations would require the government to amend or to consider enacting legislation. The committee has set out the reasons why it formed the view that regular independent review of DND/CAF intelligence activities will strengthen accountability over its operations.
We believe there is an opportunity for the government, with Bill still before the Senate, to put in place requirements for annual reporting on DND/CAF's national security or intelligence activities, as would be required for CSIS and CSE.
Second, the committee also believes that its review substantiates the need for the government to give very serious consideration to providing explicit legislative authority for the conduct of defence intelligence activities. Defence intelligence is critical to the operations of the Canadian Armed Forces and, like all intelligence activities, involves inherent risks.
DND/CAF officials expressed concerns to the committee about maintaining operational flexibility for the conduct of defence intelligence activities in support of military operations. The committee, therefore, thought it was important to present both the risks and the benefits of placing defence intelligence on a clear statutory footing.
Our recommendations are a reflection of the committee's analysis of these important issues.
We would be pleased to take your questions.
First of all, we cannot forget that the legislative basis for the Department of National Defence always remains the prerogative of the Crown.
What we know about the Crown prerogative is that it's several centuries old. It's a very old vestigial power vested in the Crown that allows countries to, for example, deploy troops, prosecute wars and conduct foreign policy.
The powers vested today in CSIS and CSE, for example, also sprang forth from the original concept of the Crown prerogative, but as a result of evolving, both of those organizations now have four corners of a statute within which to operate. They have their own law. They have their own enabling legislation, and by its own admission, in the government's defence paper, the Department of National Defence indicates that it's the only full spectrum organization in the country. In other words, it does what CSIS, CSE and the RCMP do combined.
It also plans on expanding the number of intelligence personnel by 300 over the next several years. It is a major actor in the intelligence sphere.
We took a long hard look at the statutory footing on which it's operating and began to ask some difficult probative questions. The report tries to walk a fine line between the merits of the government considering a statutory footing, new legislation, and some of the inherent risks that the department has brought to our attention. We've been very careful in the report to put it in very plain black and white for people to understand. In so doing, we wanted to simply raise the profile of this issue and ignite a debate, not only amongst parliamentarians but in Canadian society.
My thanks to the witnesses for joining us today.
First of all, I want to thank you and all the members of the NSICOP for the work that you have done up to now. Given that this is the first experience for us all, please know that, if we are asking more technical questions on the procedure, it is in order to reach certain conclusions, it is not that we are criticizing your work, quite the contrary.
I would like to know more about the follow-up to your recommendations. As an example, when the Auditor General submits a report, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts generally makes it a point to hear from representatives of the various departments.
In your case, it is a little more complicated for two reasons. First of all, the information needed for the follow-up may well be classified. Then, you are not completely able to engage in the political jousting that is sometimes necessary to achieve good accountability.
Would it be appropriate for a committee, like ours, for example, to be given the responsibility of conducting the follow-up with some of the organizations mentioned in your recommendations?
Thanks for pointing that out, Mr. Graham.
We were struck early on in our steep learning curve about how little Canadians knew about the security and intelligence community in the country: who were the actors, what were their powers, how did they co-operate, how did they not co-operate, how could things be improved, and what are the threats facing the country.
We saw some astonishing polling results about the lack of information in Canadian society. Despite the fact that we have good agencies and departments putting out good information, Canadians are not ferreting out that information, not understanding it and not collating it.
We decided, on a foundational go-forward basis, to provide some 30 to 32 pages at the front end in this chapter to give Canadians a bit of a survey, a security and intelligence 101 course in plain English.
One of my favourite tests that I apply all the time in the committee is, if you can't stop anybody coming off of a Canadian bus or train or commuter vehicle and put this report in front of them and have them understand it, you've failed. We've tried to write and deliver information here for Canadians to understand what's going on in the country in a way that they can get it.
Canadians do get this; they get it perfectly well. It's just that I think we haven't necessarily taken the time to put it in a format and a way that they can understand and digest it. That's the purpose of those 32 or 34-odd pages, to paint a picture and a mosaic of what is going on, and at the same time to show Canadians that historically, security and intelligence has been an almost organic process.
I mentioned earlier that CSIS was spun off from the RCMP—after the RCMP was involved in some shenanigans going way back—from the Macdonald commission. It was given its own statutory footing, and CSE was given its statutory footing. Things evolved, and we think that this is an organic process in the security and intelligence field. We've tried to capture that as well.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee. It's good to be back.
I have with me today the associate deputy minister, Vincent Rigby, the commissioner of the RCMP, Brenda Lucki, and the director of CSIS, David Vigneault.
We're happy to try to respond to your questions about the “2018 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada”.
I'd like to begin by saying that the women and men who work for our intelligence and security agencies do an incredible and very difficult job of identifying, monitoring, mitigating, and stopping threats in the interests of keeping Canadians safe. It is a 24-7, unrelenting job and the people who protect us deserve our admiration and our thanks.
The purpose of the “Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada” is to provide Canadians with unclassified information about the threats we are facing. That includes threats emanating from Canada but targeted elsewhere around the world. No country wants to be an exporter of terrorism or violent extremism. Providing Canadians with a public assessment of terrorists threats is a core element of the government's commitment to transparency and accountability. While never exposing classified information, the goal is to be informative and accurate.
Before I get into the specifics of this year's report, I would like to remind committee members about the “2016 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada”. In the ministerial foreword to that report, I wrote this:
It is a serious and unfortunate reality that terrorist groups, most notably the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), use violent extremist propaganda to encourage individuals to support their cause. This group is neither Islamic nor a state, and so will be referred to as Daesh (its Arabic acronym) in this Report.
In hindsight, that principle is something that should have better guided the authors of subsequent reports when referring to the various terrorist threats facing our country. Canadians of all faiths and backgrounds have helped to build our country and continue to be integral members of our communities and neighbourhoods. They contribute to inspiring a stronger, more equal and compassionate Canada, one that we all strive for. It is neither accurate nor fair to equate any one community or an entire religion with extremist violence or terror. To do so is simply wrong and inaccurate.
Following the issuance of the 2018 report, we heard several strong objections, particularly from the Sikh and Muslim communities in Canada, that the language in the report was not sufficiently precise. Due to its use of terms such as “Sikh extremism” or “Sunni extremism”, the report was perceived as impugning entire religions instead of properly zeroing in on the dangerous actions of a small number of people. I can assure you that broad brush was not the intent of the report. It used language that has actually been in use for years. It has appeared in places such as the previous government's 2012 counterterrorism strategy and the report in December 2018 of the all-party National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. Similar language also appeared on the Order Paper of the House of Commons in reference to certain proposed parliamentary business. As I have said before, language matters. Just because something has often been phrased in a certain way does not mean that it should be phrased in that way now or in the future.
As a result of the concerns presented to me, I requested a review of the language in the report, to ensure that it provides Canadians with useful, unclassified information about terrorist threats to Canada without falsely maligning any particular community. We consulted with the Sikh and Muslim communities in Canada. We consulted with the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on National Security. We consulted with our security and intelligence agencies. We also heard from many members of Parliament.
Going forward, we will use terminology that focuses on intent or ideology, rather than an entire religion. As an example, the report now refers to “extremists who support violent means to establish an independent state within India”. This is an approach, interestingly enough, that is sometimes used by some of our allies. For instance, the 2018 national strategy for counterterrorism of the United States of America reads in part, “Babbar Khalsa International seeks, through violent means, to establish its own independent state in India”.
The objective must be to describe the threat to the public accurately and precisely, without unintentionally condemning the entire Sikh community or any other community. The vast majority of the Sikh community in Canada are peaceful and would never wish to harm anyone, not in this country or anywhere else.
Similarly, we have eliminated the use of terms such as “Shia or Sunni extremism”. Going forward, these threats will be described in a more precise manner, such as by referring directly to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah or Daesh. That is more accurate and more informative. Once again, the point is that language matters, and we must always be mindful of that fact, which is why the review will be an ongoing process.
I'm sure that every member here has seen the increasing statistics on hate crime published just a couple of weeks ago. Sadly, 2017 saw a 47% increase in police-reported hate crime in Canada. Social media platforms are making it easier and easier for hateful individuals to find each other and then to amplify their toxic rhetoric. Tragically, as we saw very recently in New Zealand, this sometimes leads to devastating and deadly consequences. The idea should be anathema to all of us that governments of any stripe might inadvertently continue to use language that can then be twisted by these nefarious and violent individuals as proof points in their minds and justifications for their hatred.
In addition to the language review, I would like to share some of the innovative things that our security agencies are doing to be accurate, effective and bias-free in their day-to-day work. That's just one example. For the past several months, the people who are tasked with making those final difficult decisions about adding someone to the SATA, the Secure Air Travel Act, or the no-fly list, in other words, have had the name and the picture of that particular person removed from the file, so that the name or the picture does not influence the final decision, not even subconsciously. The focus of the decision-makers must be on the facts that are in the file, and they must make a decision on the basis of those facts. So it's a matter of fact and not prejudice.
The women and men of our intelligence and security community are hard-working professionals, but there is not a human being alive who is not prone to some preconceived idea or bias. Government should try very hard to mitigate the effects of this very human trait.
Finally, while the updated report has been received reasonably well, there have been critics who have complained that the changes reduce the ability of our agencies to do their job. I would profoundly disagree with that. The factual content of the report has not changed. It continues to outline the threats facing and emanating from Canada. It simply does it in a manner that cannot be interpreted to denigrate entire communities or religions because of the actions of a small number of individuals who are actually behaving in a manner that is contrary to what that community holds dear. The whole community should not be condemned for that.
Frankly, our security and intelligence agencies need the goodwill and the support of all peaceful, law-abiding members of all communities to do their jobs effectively. We cannot build those partnerships if the language we use creates division or distance or unease among those communities and our security agencies.
Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting me to be here again today. I and my officials would be pleased to try to answer your questions.
Minister, thank you for being here. I want to thank my colleagues on the committee for accepting my motion to have you come and speak to this issue. As you know, I wrote to you in December when this issue first arose, and and I had both written to the before the changes were made. Unlike what was just mentioned, the words do matter, and on that we agree, Minister.
I think the Sikh community deserves praise for standing up for itself because ultimately, the consequences are very real. There is a rise in hate crimes, and there is another form of terrorism that is happening in communities not just here in Canada but around the world, namely, going after and attacking faith communities, and other communities of course.
I think these changes are welcome, and I certainly hope the work will continue with affected communities, because there's a specific issue that was raised in this report. We know, though, that the Muslim community both here in Canada and around the world, and certainly in the United States, has faced this issue with regard to terrorism for the better part of two decades. It's a concern that has been raised. One of the reasons you've had to make changes to the no-fly list is that there is a form of profiling inherent in the way that apparatus works.
Minister, you've said a lot of the things that I think are welcome certainly by folks hoping for change in how this is done. We've asked that there be a rethink of this process, given that we are seeing a rise in hate crimes and other incidents that seriously jeopardize public safety.
Will there be a push to institutionalize the thinking that you've put forward here today? These types of mechanisms, transparency-wise, are very important but can have the opposite affect, as you've pointed out.
It's probably not the greatest point to interrupt you on, but my time is limited. I did want to get to the substantive piece, though.
Older reports are quite challenging to find in this digital age, to be fair. I think that's worth pointing out, but from what we see, it has been 17 years since the issue that was raised in this report was ever part of a similar report, so it's been quite a while.
I think one of the issues that was raised by many who were taking issue with this is not just the language that's used, which we've all addressed today, but it's also the why. I think there was a question raised to that effect.
Given that you can't divulge everything because it's classified information, as much as we always want transparency, is there not a concern that if you can't explain why, some thought needs to be put into whether it's better to leave some things classified instead of sort of going halfway without being able to provide any justification?
This was also a big issue that was taken up by some of the communities that were calling the government to account on this.
It is important to raise the question of why. There was reporting this morning, even about the getting talking points relating to specific communities on foreign trips.
There is some cynicism around that. Are you not concerned that it gets fed into by dropping something into a report and then not being able to back it up?
In fact, I'll be picking up a little bit from where Mr. Dubé left off. It's the sections in this report about right-wing extremism.
I'm from Montreal. I was a CEGEP student at the time of École Polytechnique, which was an impactful event, as far as it was clearly targeting women because of the hatred of women. Only about a month ago, I was at a vigil for the van attack on Yonge Street, which was another event that was based on the hatred of women. At least that's what we've heard from reports.
At the beginning of this year, we held a vigil outside a mosque in my community because of what happened in Christchurch, New Zealand. In fact, not so long ago, we had also had a vigil because of what had happened at the mosque shooting in Sainte-Foy.
Those are three very large events, as far as people killed. All of them would be based on right-wing extremism and that kind of a philosophy. Yet, when I'm looking at this report, it says, “However, while racism, bigotry, and misogyny may undermine the fabric of Canadian society, ultimately they do not usually result in criminal behavior or threats to national security.”
Is this type of extremism truly less dangerous than the other forms of extremism? That doesn't seem to be, at least in my experience when I look back on our recent history.