I'd like to thank the committee for inviting me to speak on Bill C-59, the most comprehensive and far-reaching reform to national security in Canada since 1984. I would like emphasize that I am not a lawyer. However, I do have experience working in national security and intelligence, and I study this area for a living. Indeed, in the interest of transparency, I would like to state that from 2012 to 2015, I worked at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service as a strategic analyst.
My comments are, of course, my own, but they're informed by my research and experience as the national security landscape in Canada has evolved in a relatively short period of time. All of this is to say that today my comments will be focused on the scope of this bill and will address some of the areas that I believe this committee needs to, at the very least, consider as it makes recommendations.
First and foremost, I wish to express my support for this bill. I believe it contains four important steps that are essential for Canadian national security and the functions of our national security agencies.
First, it provides clarity as to the powers of our national security agencies. There's no better example of this than part 3, the CSE act, which gives our national signals intelligence agency statutory standing and spells out its mandate and procedures to a reasonable extent. Given that the first mention of this agency in law was the 2001 Anti-terrorism Act, this bill takes us a long way towards transparency.
Second, Bill C-59 outlines the limits on the power of our national security agencies in a way that will provide certainty to the public and also to our national security agencies. In particular, the bill clarifies one of the most controversial parts of the current legislation formerly known as BillC-51, that is, CSIS' disruption powers.
While it might be argued that this is taking away CSIS' ability to fight threats to Canada's national security, I disagree. Having found themselves embroiled in scandals in recent years, it is little appreciated how conservative our national security agencies actually are. While they do not want political interference in their activities, they no doubt welcome the clarity that Bill C-59 provides as to these measures.
Let there be no doubt that the ability to disrupt is an important one, particularly given the increasingly fast pace of terror investigations, especially those related to the threat of foreign fighters. In this sense, I believe that Bill C-59 hits the right balance, grounding these measures squarely within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Third, Bill C-59 addresses long-standing problems related to review, and in some cases oversight, in Canadian national security. I will not go over the problems of our current system, which has been described as “stove-piped” by experts and commissions of inquiries. I will, however, state that the proposed national security and intelligence review agency, NSIRA, and intelligence commissioner—in combination with the new National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, NSICOP—create a review architecture that is robust and that I believe Canadians can have confidence in.
Fourth, in its totality, Bill C-59 is a forward-looking bill in at least three respects. First, the issue of datasets is not narrowly defined in law. While this has been a cause of concern for some, I believe this is the right approach to take. It allows flexibility of the term, but at the same time it subjects any interpretation to the oversight of the intelligence commissioner and the minister. It subjects the use of datasets to the internal procedures of the national security agencies themselves—and limits who may have access—and the review of the NSIRA and NSICOP.
Second, it takes steps to enhance Canada's ability to protect and defend its critical infrastructure. Increasingly, we are seeing the abilities of states and state-sponsored actors to create chaos through the attacks on electrical grids, oil and gas facilities, dams, and hospital and health care facilities. Much of this critical infrastructure is in the hands of the private sector. This bill takes steps to ensure that there is a process in place to address these threats in the future.
Third, Bill C-59 puts us on the same footing as our allies by mandating an active cyber-role for our national signals intelligence agency. I appreciate the legal and ethical challenges this raises, especially should CSE be asked to support a DND operation. However, the idea that Canada would not have this capability is, I think, unacceptable to most Canadians, and would be seen as unfortunate in the eyes of our allies, many of whom have been quietly encouraging Canada to enhance its cyber-presence in the wake of cyber-threats from North Korea, China, and Russia.
To reiterate, I believe this is a good bill, but there's room for improvement. I'm aware that some of my legal colleagues, especially Craig Forcese, Kent Roach, and Alex, of course, will be speaking to certain specific legal issues that should be addressed to make the law more operationalizable and compliant with our Constitution.
I encourage the committee to seriously consider their suggestions. However, I'm going to focus on four areas that may be problematic in a broader sense, which I believe the committee should at least be aware of or consider when it makes recommendations.
First, I think it's important to consider the role of the Minister of Public Safety. To be clear, I believe our current minister does a good job in his current position. However, the mandate of the Minister of Public Safety is already very large, and this bill would give him or her more responsibilities in terms of review and, in some cases, oversight. At some future date, the scope of this ministry may be worth considering.
Having said this, I acknowledge a paradox. Requiring the intelligence commissioner's approval for certain operations, as is clear in proposed subsections 28(1) and 28(2) of the proposed CSE Act, and potentially denying the approval of a minister is, in my view, at odds with the principle of ministerial responsibility in our Westminster system of government.
To be sure, I understand why this authority of the intelligence commissioner is there. Section 8 of the charter insists on the right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure. The intelligence commissioner's role ensures that this standard is met.
Why is this a problem? Canada has an unfortunate history of ministers and prime ministers trying to shirk responsibility for the actions of our security services, which dates back decades. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau used the principle of police independence to state that his government could not possibly engage in review or oversight of the activities of the RCMP even though the national security roles of the RCMP are a ministerial responsibility. There is simply a tension here with our constitutional requirements and with what has been the practice of our system for decades. If this bill is to pass through, it will be up to members of Parliament to hold the minister to account, even if he or she tries to blame the intelligence commissioner for actions not taken.
Second, despite the creation of no less than three major review agencies, there's still no formal mechanism for efficacy review of our security services. We will receive many reports as to whether or not our security services are compliant with the law, but we still will not have any idea of how well they are doing it. I'm not suggesting we need to number-crunch how many terrorism plots are disrupted. Such a crude measure would be counterproductive. However, inquiring as to whether the analysis produced supports government decisions in a timely manner is a worthwhile question to ask. Efficacy review is still a gap in our national security review architecture.
Third, while I praise the transparency of Bill C-59, I'm also concerned about what I'm calling “report fatigue”. I note that between last year's BillC-22 and now Bill C-59, there will have been at least 10 new reports generated, not including special reports as required. It is my understanding that some of these reports are very technical and can be automatically generated when certain tasks such as, hypothetically, the search of a dataset is done. However, others are going to be more complex. More briefings will also be required. Having spent considerable time working on reports for the government in my former work, I know how difficult and time-consuming this can be.
Finally, and related to this last point, it is my understanding that the security services will not be receiving any extra resources to comply with the reporting and briefing requirements of either BillC-22 or Bill C-59. This concerns me, because I believe that enhanced communication between our national security services with the government and review bodies is important. As the former's powers expand, this should be well resourced.
In summary, the ability to investigate threats to the national security of Canada is vital. I believe that for the most part, Bill C-59 takes Canada a great step towards meeting that elusive balance between liberty and security. In my view, where Bill C-59 defines powers and process, it should enable our security services to carry out their important work with confidence knowing exactly where they stand. Further, the transparency in the bill will hopefully go some way towards building trust between the Canadian public, Parliament, and our security services.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to your questions.