Speech by the National Security and Intelligence Advisor to the Prime Minister to the Centre for International Governance Innovation

National Security Challenges in the 21st Century

June 8, 2021

Thank you very much, Aaron, it’s a great, great pleasure to be here today. Thank you for that introduction and I’m looking forward to having as sophisticated a discussion as I can make it with you today.

Before I get started with my formal remarks I did however want to say a few words about the very tragic events that happened in London, Ontario.

We learned yesterday – I think as we all know around Canada – that a family of five was targeted in a truly horrific attack based on their Islamic faith.

Four people lost their lives, and a nine-year-old child remains in hospital.

I would like to express my deepest, deepest condolences to the family and the loved ones of the victims. There is no place for terrorism, intolerance, hate, and Islamophobia in this country, and you would have seen remarks very similar to what I’ve just said from the Prime Minister in the House of Commons earlier today.

Thank you again, Aaron, for this opportunity to speak to you today, and I have to say I’m very pleased to be here.

The preparation of this speech has given me the opportunity to reconnect with CIGI, an organization close to my heart as a former Board member.

My experience then was that you do some truly great work, so it comes as no surprise that it is continuing with your current project in the national security space. Well done.

As many others have said, I too believe we need to elevate the national security and intelligence dialogue in this country.

By that, I mean not only talking about national security, but doing so in an informed manner and paving the way for action.

And not just when things go wrong, but on an ongoing basis.

Opportunities like this one – that are public and include civil society – are part of what’s needed to help make that happen.

With this in mind, I would like to make a few key points today.

First, as every National Security and Intelligence Advisor (NSIA) sees his or her role slightly differently, I would like to begin with a few comments on my position. Perhaps not everyone knows what the average day as National Security and Intelligence Advisor looks like – probably more than a few of you don’t know what an NSIA is! So let me give you a little bit of context.

Second, I will offer my reflections on the current moment we find ourselves in globally and some of the national security challenges Canada is facing.

Third, I will describe the current tools Canada has to confront these challenges.

And finally, I will offer some points for consideration on where Canada can go from here, with a few lessons from our friends and allies.

My bottom line is this: the world is at an inflection point.

It is experiencing seismic political and economic shifts and facing a complex combination of new and enduring national security challenges.

And as COVID-19 has made painfully clear, these challenges are relevant to all Canadians in their daily lives.

This environment requires a new, broader definition of “national security”.

And it requires Canada to be prepared and to step up its game.

National security threats against Canada – whether from state or non-state actors or from global phenomena such as pandemics and climate change – are greater than ever and directly impact our economy, our democratic institutions, and our way of life.

In the face of such massive change, Canada’s national security and intelligence community needs to evolve and adapt.

That means ensuring our authorities and tools are fit for purpose, increasing transparency with Canadians, furthering diversity and inclusion initiatives, refining our governance structures, and working across and beyond government.

Indeed, we need a comprehensive response that is not just whole of government, but whole of Canada.

But we need to start by engaging Canadians in an open and continuous dialogue about national security.

So let’s get to it.

First, what does an NSIA actually do?

As the title implies, I provide policy and operational advice as well as intelligence to the Prime Minister and Cabinet on issues related to national security.

I meet with the Prime Minister, his office, and Ministers on a regular basis to help shape the Government’s national security agenda and respond to emerging issues – everything from domestic terrorist incidents as we have seen over the last couple of days to international security crises.

In addition, from my position at the Privy Council Office, I convene and help coordinate the security and intelligence community.  

I am not the boss of the Deputy Ministers in this community – if anything, they’re probably mine! – but my role is to help ensure we work as one integrated team.

This team includes the traditional players such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Public Safety Canada (PS), Global Affairs Canada (GAC), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the Department of National Defence (DND), and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).

Beyond that core group, there are a growing number of departments and agencies with a direct nexus to national security, including Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada, Agriculture Canada, Health Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and so on.

It’s a large community – although not nearly as large as that in the United States – and given the dynamic and global nature of national security challenges we continually face, it can involve virtually every single department across Ottawa on any given day.

One of the most important aspects of coordinating this community is to ensure that decision-makers have the information they need to prevent and respond to threats to Canada and Canadian interests.

This brings me to the “I” in “NSIA” – intelligence.

The case for intelligence has never been stronger – timely, relevant intelligence assessment with a nexus to Canadian interests helps us understand the world, and the threats we face.

It helps inform policy and operational decision-making.

As such, continuing to push intelligence out – to a broader community of consumers – and up – to senior officials and politicians – has been one of my priorities over the last 18 months.

Finally, a big part of my job involves liaising regularly with partners outside of the “Ottawa bubble”.

This includes my international counterparts, especially in the Five Eyes, with NATO allies, and with like-minded partners.

The NSIA works on international security issues often as much as domestic ones, so maintaining these relationships is absolutely critical.

It also includes working with key stakeholders from other levels of government – provinces, territories, municipalities – as well as academia and the private sector.

So, you know a little bit more about what I do.

Let me now offer some reflections on the current global landscape, and what implications we can draw for Canada’s national security.

It’s become somewhat of a cliché in recent years, but that doesn’t make it any less true: we live in an increasingly complex and dangerous world. And I’d say in 2021 this is truer than ever before.

Canada, like many of our allies, is confronted by a myriad of emerging and cross-cutting trends and threats.

Traditional, enduring threats have not gone away, but are taking on new dimensions while at the same time, intersecting with non-traditional ones.

To this end, I would like to highlight three key trends that are dominating the national security landscape at the moment:

  1. First, heightened geopolitical competition characterized by an increasingly multipolar world.
  2. Second, rapid technological change. Something that I know is very close to CIGI’s heart.
  3. And finally, the accelerating impact of transnational security challenges such as climate change and global health crises. This is where the expanded definition really kicks in.

The first trend is the emergence of a more multipolar system.

Changes in global economic development are shifting the international balance of power, particularly towards the south and east.

For example, the Indo-Pacific is an increasingly important centre of global growth, home to three of the world’s top five economies, the largest trade pact, and five of the most populous countries.

That said, the defining element of this multipolar shift is the rise of China.

Beijing’s political, economic, military, and technological ascendance has been the key development of the last three decades, and will continue to be a significant international force in the years to come.

China has become much more assertive in its region and internationally. It has expanded its power and influence, including with the Belt and Road Initiative, and has also attempted to undermine states it perceives as competitors.

To that end, the People’s Republic of China represents a key strategic threat to Canada.

As Public Safety Minister Bill Blair noted last year in a letter to Members of Parliament, China,and also Russia, is particularly active in Canada when it comes to foreign interference.

As the Minister stated, foreign interference by China threatens “the integrity of our political system, democratic institutions, social cohesion, academic freedom, economy and long-term prosperity, as well as our fundamental rights and freedoms.”

China leverages a well-integrated economic, military, and diplomatic toolkit as well as human and cyber-enabled espionage to achieve its objectives. And I would add to that list: detention and covert diplomacy as we have seen with the two Michaels.

At the same time, Russia remains determined to play a disruptive role internationally.

This includes in its immediate region, such as its continued occupation of Crimea.

It is also reflected in its international efforts to undermine democratic elections and spread dis- and misinformation online.

Indeed, China, Russia, and other hostile state actors will continue to pose a significant economic and security threat to Canada through their foreign interference, disinformation, espionage, and hostile cyber efforts.

This activity poses a direct threat, not only to government institutions, but also to individuals, businesses, universities, and research institutions.

This shifting global environment, in which political, military, and economic power is more distributed and contested, will see regional powers try to revise the status quo in their spheres of influence and beyond.

Many parts of the world are already fraught with instability and are potential flashpoints for conflict.

In the Indo-Pacific, we have tension in the South and East China Seas, over Taiwan and Hong Kong, on the Korean Peninsula, and along the border of India and Pakistan.

In the Middle East, there is the continued threat from Iran, the civil war in Syria, and the recent violence in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel.

In Africa, conflict in the Tigray region in Ethiopia persists, while violent extremists in Mali, Burkina Faso, and increasingly Niger, continue to extend their reach in the Sahel region.

In Latin America, Venezuela continues to be caught in a downward economic and political spiral.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but is illustrative of the complex global situation.

I mention these flashpoints to make the point that the seeds of national security threats are often sown beyond our borders, whether from state or non-state actors.

As a country which benefits from collective security, Canada has a strong interest in preserving the stability of the rules-based international system.

This interest takes on new urgency as we try to work within a multilateral governance system that is struggling under the weight of 21st century problems and politics.

In this multipolar world with many potential flashpoints, we are also seeing a renewed contest of ideologies, one that is pitting liberal democracy against autocracy, and is leading to the further erosion of the rules-based international order.

Liberal democracy is increasingly being supplanted by authoritarian governments who seek to weaken multilateralism, principles of individual freedoms, the rule of law, open trade, and human rights. This directly threatens Western interests.

In 2021, Freedom House reported its widest annual gap between gains and losses in democracy since 2006. Today, only one person in five lives in a free country.

The playbook of today’s autocrats has also evolved, with access to novel technology to enables their activities, including the repression of political opponents and the dissemination of disinformation and propaganda, overseas and at home.

Canada is not immune from any of these nefarious activities.

This brings me to the idea of technology and technological competition, which is the second key trend I would highlight.

Technological advances have been, and will continue to be, transformative across all aspects of our society.

Emerging technologies have the potential to improve Canadians’ lives and create opportunities for our industries.

At the same time, rising geopolitical competition is driving a science and technology contest between states, which puts Canadian researchers and innovators – both in the private and public sector – in the crosshairs.

The speed of change will also exacerbate the vulnerabilities we face from threat actors if we are not ready to respond.

The objective for democracies is to keep a comparative advantage, as competitor states will use their technological and economic edge as levers against us. 

Here in Canada for example, we have observed the strategic investment in sensitive sectors by companies who obfuscate their state ties.

We have also seen the theft of intellectual property to advance the interests of foreign states and state-backed companies at the expense of the legitimate owners of that technology and Canada’s long-term economic security and prosperity.

And it seems not a day goes by without a devastating story about the impact of cyber attacks and ransomware.

Looking to the future, emerging technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing, will deepen threats to our national security posed by hostile states, criminals, and others.

This includes leveraging advanced computing to enable irresponsible cyber activity, and the use of AI to support sophisticated disinformation campaigns.

But it will go beyond these threats – new technologies will change how national security is conducted in the future, but exactly how we just don’t know for sure at this point in time.

What we do know, and as Shelly Bruce, Chief of CSE, noted in her remarks to CIGI last month, is that irresponsible cyber activity undermines the stability and predictability of cyberspace.

Canada must be ready to respond.

And at the same time, we must actively participate in domestic and international discussions defining the norms, technical standards, and acceptable behavior in cyberspace.

It is in this context that nontraditional challenges to national security, such as health security and climate change, act as accelerators for many of these trends.

Global health security will continue to be a key concern beyond the current pandemic.

Changes in human activity, including urbanization, mass displacement, and migration, coupled with the effects of climate change, will create conditions for the emergence and spread of new diseases.

We have already seen the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the daily toll of cases and lives lost.

And we are starting to see the secondary impacts: the pandemic will continue to affect global economic growth and lead to increased poverty and potentially social unrest.

The pandemic has also provided threat actors with more opportunities to conduct irresponsible activity online. This includes the leveraging of social media by violent extremists, the exploitation of cyber tools for reconnaissance and espionage, and efforts by states to spread disinformation.

Compounding the consequences of the pandemic are the effects of climate change on human security.

Climate change will place more strain on communities worldwide. 

The World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change could cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, illness, and heat stress.

Here in Canada, past and future warming is, on average, about double the magnitude of global warming.

A warmer climate will intensify weather extremes, meaning more severe heatwaves, and increased drought, wildfire, and urban flood risks. This will stress our critical infrastructure and emergency responders.

Climate change will also lead to major changes in our Arctic, as it already is.

As Canadian areas of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans experience longer and more widespread ice-free conditions, threats to our sovereignty and security will increase and already are.

Reduced ice cover will fuel competition over navigable waterways, discoverable energy, and mineral resources.

It will also have a military and espionage dimension, especially in relation to Russia and China, which are investing in their Arctic capabilities.

In addition to health security and climate change, terrorism and violent extremism remain an enduring concern.

The pandemic has provided extremists from across the ideological spectrum with opportunities to generate even more hateful propaganda and conspiracy theories.

Ideologically-Motivated Violent Extremism (IMVE) in particular poses a growing threat to Canadian national security and is our most deadly extremist threat. And sadly, we’ve seen this play out in recent days.

In response, earlier this year the Government of Canada placed four additional IMVE groups on the Criminal Code list of terrorist entities, including: Atomwaffen Division, the Base, the Proud Boys, and the Russian Imperial Movement.

In this space, we have also observed notable cases of threats and intimidation directed at Canadian politicians, officials, and vulnerable groups. 

At the same time, foreign-based terrorist groups such as Daesh and al-Qaeda have not disappeared and remain the most dangerous foreign terrorist organizations.

Though diminished, they both maintain global networks and the intent and ambition to strike Western interests.

We cannot turn a blind eye to these groups.

In addition to global health threats, climate change, and extremism, transnational organized crime is an enduring concern.

Transnational organized crime groups distort the global economy, undermine democratic institutions and the rule of law, and enable corruption, notably through money laundering practices.

The ongoing Cullen Commission in British Columbia brings this home to Canada. That review has shown the challenges of combatting transnational criminal networks.

So now I’ll take a deep breath. That’s a pretty gloomy picture. 

And with everyone sufficiently depressed, I’ll stop here.

I am kidding of course, but I went into some detail here because I wanted to drive home this point: we live in a turbulent, competitive, and dangerous world that we need to be prepared for.

So now what?

How can Canada best position itself to advance its national security interests, defined in the broadest sense?

To start with, we need to leverage and improve all of our tools, from diplomacy and international assistance, to our military and intelligence assets, both at home and abroad.

Diplomatically, Global Affairs Canada can continue to harness the expertise of our foreign service to further Canada’s interests abroad.

Global Affairs promotes international peace and security through a variety of activities, including in such areas as women, peace, and security, non-proliferation, arms control, international cyber policy, international crime, and space. It’s a much longer list than that.

Canada’s launch earlier this year of the Declaration against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations is a great example of the importance of diplomatic tools in upholding human rights and supporting the rules-based international order.

Sanctions and attribution statements are additional tools in our diplomatic toolkit.

Canada’s international assistance efforts will also help promote security and stability abroad by improving economic, social, and political development in recipient countries.

Without these investments, instability can thrive, and lead to national security threats to our own country.

Militarily, the Canadian Armed Forces Communications Security Establishmentmust defend Canada’s interests in a shifting security environment in which geography no longer affords us the protection it once did, and hasn’t for a while, quite frankly.

In the Arctic, for example, the military enforces our sovereignty and security through continued surveillance and control of Canadian territory in the face of increasing threats.

Our military also works closely with our allies and partners abroad to support peace and security in Central and South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific.

Our core security and intelligence agencies – CSIS, CSE, RCMP, DND, GAC – must also work day in and day out to gather intelligence, investigate and respond to threats to the security of Canada, secure our critical cyber systems, and keep Canadians safe.

These agencies have a number of tools at their disposal.

For example, CSIS collects human intelligence and leverages its threat reduction measures, CSE can collect signals intelligence and launch active or defensive cyber operations, and the RCMP can conduct criminal national security investigations.

From a whole-of-government perspective, the National Security Review under the Investment Canada Act is a great example of a horizontal tool.

Depending on the foreign investment under review, the process engages the expertise of departments and agencies ranging from Finance to the Public Health Agency of Canada to Natural Resources Canada.

This reflects the diverse threat landscape and various avenues sophisticated threat actors use to advance their own interests at the expense of Canada’s national security.

Beyond the federal government, provinces and territories, and increasingly, municipalities, are integral partners who are often on the front line in our efforts to counter threats to our national security, as are businesses, academia, and civil society.

There have been several recent initiatives to further these partnerships.

CSIS and Public Safety engage regularly with academic institutions.

In March, Innovation, Science, and Economic Development published a Research Security Policy Statement, calling attention to the threat of espionage and foreign interference activities directed at Canada’s research community.

Public Safety’s Economic Security Task Force is leading a policy review examining what additional measures, if any, are needed to ensure our continued ability to respond to economic-based threats to national security. Public consultations are going to be integral to this review.

So clearly, we have a diverse toolbox to respond to this challenging world, one that leverages both government and non-government assets.

But how can we do better? How can we use these tools to maximum effect?

Our allies may provide some clues.

The United Kingdom’s recently concluded Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development, and Foreign Policy is a useful model to consider when defining our strategy.

What is notable about the Integrated Review is precisely its integrated, or “joined up”, nature across government.

It brings together national security and international policy.

It establishes a clear connection between the UK’s domestic and foreign objectives.

And it looks beyond so-called “traditional” national security issues, covering a broad range of policy areas.

Australia, for its part, has taken steps to strengthen its national security tools in response to hostile activities by state actors.

For example, in 2018, it appointed its first National Counter Foreign Interference Coordinator (NCFIC) to coordinate a whole-of-government response to acts of foreign interference.

It has also beefed up its rules around foreign investment.

The government now has a wider suite of authorities to impose conditions or block foreign investments on national security grounds.

Finally, the United States recently released Interim National Security Strategic Guidance that sets out a vision for how it will engage with the world, and provides direction to its national security departments and agencies to help counter threats at home.

The U.S. intelligence community also published a report in May providing a strategic assessment of domestic terrorism as a prelude to a government response.

With all this in mind, I believe that Canada needs to continue to keep pace with our allies in responding to the dizzying array of national security threats facing us.

And we can do this in a few important ways.

First, we need to ensure our policies and strategies are fully integrated and coordinated to deal with today’s national security challenges.

As Aaron said at the outset, we can’t work in silos anymore.

We can’t work according to outdated definitions of national security.

And we can’t separate the domestic from the international. Everyone in government has a stake in national security.

Future national security strategies will need to reflect this reality.

Second, our core security and intelligence agencies need to adapt to complex changes in the threat landscape, including advances in technology, in order to fulfill their mandates and meet the expectations of Canadians in countering hostile activities by state and non-state actors.

I fully support efforts to ensure that our legislative authorities and tools are up-to-date, including the position advanced by Director David Vigneault concerning CSIS in his CIGI speech earlier this year.

This work shouldn’t be once a generation, or even once every five years.

We need to continually assess our ability to deliver on our mandate, as part of an ongoing and substantive conversation with Canadians, and devote the necessary resources.

At the same time, we need to maintain public confidence in our national security institutions and uphold the privacy rights of Canadians.

Canadians have the right to have their privacy interests protected when we protect national security. It is not a zero-sum equation.

As such, the third thing we need to do is increase transparency to ensure we have the support and trust of Canadians.

Significant work has been done recently to be more public about our activities and how we do our business.

My speech today, and those of my colleagues at CSE and CSIS earlier this year, are an example of that.

I would think the last few months have probably been unprecedented in the security and intelligence community for CSIS, CSE, and the National Security and Intelligence Advisor to speak out on national security issues.

But there is much, much more to be done.

This includes increasing transparency about our intelligence priorities, for example, and about how we govern ourselves and how we work together.

While we within the security and intelligence community must show our leadership in this effort, our review bodies – the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) as well as the Intelligence Commissioner – are also critical here.

Review is an essential part of maturing our national security and intelligence culture and making sure we do better.

We must always learn from our experiences and demonstrate to Canadians our commitment to carrying out our activities in a manner that respects Canada’s values of accountability, transparency, and the rule of law.

Fourth, we need to invest in our workforce. This includes ensuring it reflects the diversity of Canadians by hiring individuals of different racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds.

Diversity really is one of our greatest strengths in the security and intelligence community.

A national security community which lacks a diversity of individuals, perspectives, or experiences is one that looks too narrowly at the world, too narrowly at the threats facing us, and too narrowly at how to respond.

We must avoid unconscious bias at all costs.

I believe these efforts are critical and we have much more to do in that regard.

Fifth, we need to ensure we have the right governance structures in place to discuss national security on an ongoing basis and take action when needed.

This will require taking a close look at our existing national security bodies to ensure there are no gaps, that they are fit for purpose, and that they have the right membership.

As just one example, Canada is the only country in the Five Eyes – and the G7 for that matter – without a National Security Council (NSC)-type body.

Indeed, other partners are actually broadening and strengthening their Cabinet-level National Security bodies.

For example, the United States has expanded its NSC to include the Office of Science and Technology and the administrator of the US Agency for International Development, indicating a broader understanding of national security.

And finally, as I mentioned earlier, we need to increase our collaboration with partners both domestically and internationally.

I have already mentioned the importance of our allies, whether Five Eyes, NATO, G7. We of course have the G7 Summit this week. We need to face national security threats together in such a complex threat environment, whether it’s collecting intelligence, sharing information, or responding to specific events in a collaborative fashion.

And at home as I mentioned earlier, provinces, territories, municipalities, the private sector, and academia are in the trenches on a lot of national security issues.

For example, as noted in the Government’s Research Security Policy Statement I mentioned earlier, Canadian research is increasingly targeted by espionage and foreign interference.

We can’t do our job without these partners.

We need to get better at sharing information, providing guidance, and leveraging their expertise.

We need to evolve our approach to these complex issues in partnership with all of Canadian society. This requires leadership and engagement with you – with civil society, researchers and academics, our world-leading tech companies, and with all Canadians.

These are conversations I welcome and look forward to continuing.

So I am going to conclude and I hope my main message has hit home: national security is important –for government and for all Canadians. It protects our physical security, our prosperity, and our values.

The world is at a time of great change and Canada’s security and intelligence community needs to evolve and adapt to this new landscape.

If we don’t, we run the risk of undermining our national security by failing to counter threats from state and non-state actors and from global trends such as climate change and global pandemics.

To that end, we need to continue to advance on a number of fronts.

We need to ensure our authorities are adequate to address the threats we face.

We need to increase our transparency with Canadians.

We need to make diversity and inclusion a priority in our workplace.

We need to look at how we govern ourselves.

And most important of all, we need to work in a fully integrated fashion across and beyond government, and make national security a truly whole of Canada endeavor.

If we do this, we will be ready for the national security challenges of the 21st century.

Thank you and I look forward to your comments and questions.

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