Speech on Canada's evolving national security architecture in a constantly changing and very difficult world


Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, Saskatchewan
January 15, 2019

Good afternoon everyone.  It’s good to be back again at the University of Regina and in this historic and wonderfully refurbished College Avenue building.  I’m glad the Government of Canada was your partner in getting this facility restored and renewed for generations to come.

As we gather on the Territory of Treaty #4 and in the homeland of the Metis, my thanks to Doug Moen and the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School for giving me an opportunity today to discuss some of my principal responsibilities in the federal Cabinet.

Before the last federal election – in the fall of 2015 – the notion of becoming Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, had never crossed my mind.  As a former Minister of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Public Works and Finance, my focus had always been on economic issues.

But the Prime Minister had this other idea … and ever since, I have been immersed in a world of spies and espionage, guns and gangs, opioids, transnational crime, migration and refugees, prisoner transfers, segregation, and natural disasters like storms, floods and wildfires.  It’s both exhausting and exhilarating, like trying to drink from a firehose.  The issues are tough, and on some days – I have to admit – it can be hard to find this portfolio’s “upside”

Nevertheless, three years and two months into this job, I can tell you it is a great honour and a great adventure to go to work every day in the Public Safety portfolio – firstly, because of the tremendous, courageous and skilled Canadians I get to work with; secondly, because of the gravity of the issues that confront us; and thirdly because those issues are inextricably connected to jobs, growth, prosperity and the well-being of Canadians.

Having a safe and secure country, governed by the rule of law and due process, is an absolute prerequisite for a thriving economy.  Security provides the stability upon which free markets depend.  It provides the predictability and confidence upon which investors rely.

Equally important – as safety and security are achieved and as the law is applied and administered – Canadians must be able to have absolute confidence that their rights and freedoms are fully respected and protected.

We are fortunate to live in a free, open, diverse, inclusive democracy – probably the finest example of pluralism the world has ever known.  And we need to work every day to keep it that way – especially in a world that is complex, always changing and sometimes dangerous.

By way of background, the Public Safety portfolio has existed since 2003.  It includes the department itself which deals with policy development, research, issues coordination and program delivery (in such diverse fields as emergency response planning, countering radicalization, First Nations policing, anti-gang services, a new legal regime for cannabis, battling PTSI among First Responders, and much more).

But the bulk of the work in my portfolio actually gets done through a collection of essential, independent agencies with extraordinary powers and responsibilities – like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Correctional Service of Canada, the Parole Board of Canada … to name the major ones.

Altogether, this portfolio includes over 60,000 dedicated personnel and an annual budget of $10 billion – all to keep Canada secure and Canadians safe, and to safeguard our rights and freedoms and the open, inclusive, democratic way in which we want to live our lives.

Today, I’d like to touch on four big topics that I hope you will find interesting:

  • one is Bill C-59, our new legislation designed to renovate Canada’s national security architecture to reflect the realities of this tough and turbulent world;
  • secondly, the issue of high-risk terrorist travellers and how we deal with the threats they pose;
  • third, Canada’s new Cyber Security policy and the steps being taken to protect all of us from malicious attacks; and
  • finally, foreign interference in Canadian affairs by state actors, including those who would use malicious influence to drive wedges of confusion, fear and hate, and do damage to our democracy.

First, Bill C-59, an Act respecting national security.  It has passed the House of Commons and is now being examined in the Senate.  The product of the most open and comprehensive public consultations about national security ever in Canadian history, the new legislation, once passed, would accomplish three important objectives.

To start with, it will make several corrections in the law to fix previous errors – like language that was too vague and rendered some provisions in the law unlikely to be used, a defective no-fly list that victimized children, implied circumventions of the Charter, and so forth.  These matters are all remedied in C-59.

Secondly, the Bill strengthens and clarifies the constitutional and legal authorities under which our security and intelligence agencies operate, and it creates some new tools for them to use.  Various court decisions and expert reports have raised questions about these matters in recent years, and it’s vital that there be no doubt about the powers and authorities these agencies have, how they can be used, and where the fences are.  Clarity is essential to effectiveness.

Finally, C-59 ushers in a whole new era of transparency and accountability.  It creates a new, comprehensive National Security and Intelligence Review Agency with a government-wide mandate to examine any and all federal departments and  agencies with a security or intelligence function.  Gone will be fragmented reviews conducted in isolated silos.  The new agency will have full authority to follow any issue wherever it goes across the entire government.  Its work and expertise will complement the separate and independent reviews done by our new National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.

We’re also creating a new Intelligence Commissioner with oversight authority to examine and approve, or disallow, certain proposed security and intelligence activities before the fact. If the Commissioner says “no”, that activity will not happen.

CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service) is Canada’shuman intelligence gathering agency.  In C-59, it will gain a clear set of rules for managing and utilizing large-scale datasets upon which CSIS depends for much of its analysis.

CSE (the Communications Security Establishment) is Canada’s signalsintelligence gathering agency.  In C-59, it gains its own stand-alone legislation and the authority to undertake active (not just defensive) cyber operations to take down imminent cyber threats to Canada, before they can attack us.

Other changes improve information sharing among federal government agencies.  There are strong rules against behaviour that might contribute to torture.  And the whole package will be reviewed from top to bottom in five years.

We have two over-arching objectives in C-59 – to ensure that the rights and freedoms of Canadians are properly respected, and equally, to ensure that our police, security and intelligence agencies are actually doing everything we expect of them to keep Canadians safe.

I’m hopeful that Bill C-59 will win the approval of the Senate soon and become law early this year.

Now let me turn to my second major topic today, and that is how we combat those who have become radicalized to extremist violence and sometimes travel abroad to inflict terror.

Since the beginning of the evil rampage of barbarism launched in Syria and Iraq a few years ago by the so-called “Islamic State”, more properly known as Daesh, close to 40,000 individuals from various countries worldwide have been lured into the terrorist cause, and have travelled to various global locations to participate – mostly before 2016.

Canada’s share of this problem is small and basically stable, but we’re not immune.  Working closely with our international partners, Canada’s security, intelligence and police agencies have identified approximately 250 of these high-risk extremist travellers with a connection to Canada who have journeyed overseas – about half into Syria, Iraq and Turkey, and the rest into Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of north and east Africa.

Some of them have become battlefield combatants.  Others did fundraising, operational planning, on-line propaganda, recruitment, training and other complicit activity.  Some were just camp followers.

There are about 190 of these people still abroad.  Some of them – perhaps many – are dead.  Others now have spouses and children.  There are close to 60 individuals who left Canada and are now back – a small number from that Syria/Iraq/Turkey theatre, but most from elsewhere.  Again, to repeat, the bulk of this terrorist travel occurred before 2016 – the figures have not changed substantially over the past three years.

Notably, despite the defeat of Daesh on the battlefield and the re-taking of the city of Raqqa some 15 months ago, there has been NO recent surge of returnees to Canada.  A few of these terrorist travellers with a nexus to Canada are known to be in the custody of the Kurds in Syria – in a volatile and dangerous region with no effective governance where Canada has no diplomatic presence.  It should be noted that while every Canadian citizen (no matter how reprehensible) has the legal right to “re-enter” Canada, the Government of Canada has no legal obligation to facilitate their return.

CSIS, the RCMP, the Global Affairs department, and our other security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies work constantly to know as much as we possibly can about every threat to our national security. That work is carried out 24/7 both internally, across all agencies, and in close collaboration with our allies in the Coalition Against Daesh, NATO, the Five Eyes Security Alliance, the G-7, the EU, Interpol, various UN agencies and others.

All available data is steadily and expertly assessed and re-assessed to ensure we are up-to-date and accurate on all risks and threats, and the individuals who pose them.  And are ready to deal with them.

Canadians who involve themselves in terrorism and violent extremism can expect to be investigated, arrested, charged and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  That is the government’s prime objective and priority.

Since specific terrorism offences first appeared in the Criminal Code some 15 years ago, over 100 charges have been laid involving 55 individuals, and 27 of them have been convicted of one or more offences – so far.  Among that small group of returnees specifically from Syria, Iraq and Turkey, four have been charged and two convicted – so far.

But evidence that can be used in a Canadian courtroom is often hard to get, particularly when it must be derived from a foreign war zone half a world away, in a place that is still dysfunctional and dangerous.  All our democratic allies face the same challenge.

While evidence is being collected and assessed, or where charges are difficult to lay, a full suite of other measures are deployed against terror suspects, including: surveillance, interrogations and further investigations; intelligence gathering and lawful sharing; on-going threat assessments; No-Fly listings; Criminal Code listings; the refusal or revocation of passports; terrorism peace bonds; and legally authorized threat reduction measures.

It’s all about keeping Canadians safe.  The specific measures to be used in respect of any particular individual or situation is determined by Canada’s police, security and intelligence agencies.  They are professional, not political.  And they are highly regarded by international counterparts.

One final point – Daesh and Al-Qaeda are not the only sources of dangerous extremist violence.  It can come from any type of fanaticism.  For example, of increasing concern are groups like right-wing white supremacists and neo-Nazis who foment hate which manifests itself in violent anti-Semitism, or a brutal misogynistic van attack along Yonge Street in Toronto, or the murder of six Canadian citizens near Quebec City, only because they were at prayer in a Mosque. All this too is a threat to Canada and Canadians which demands and gets the attention of our public safety agencies.

Turning now to Cyber Security.

Over the past two decades, information technology has revolutionized our lives.  The world has become a smaller, faster, more complex and inter-related place.  People are more connected to each other than ever before, and connected to the things around them.  And more dependent on those connections.  And more vulnerable.

The Internet and smartphones have become an inextricable part of who we are.  We spend a big portion of our waking hours online – in fact, at 43.5 hours per month, Canadians are the most online people in the world.

That’s how we work and play, shop and bank, do business and science, entertain ourselves, stay in the know, keep in touch with family and friends.  Digital technologies enrich our lives in countless ways.  And underlying them is complex infrastructure upon which our economy and modern society depend.  As part of that, our most sensitive personal and financial information is floating in a cloud.

And millions of times every day, hackers at home and around the world are trying to break in.  The culprits may be foreign states, militaries or spy agencies, or terror groups, or organized crime, or petty thieves, or people with corporate or personal grudges, or sometimes it’s the computer wonk next door, just trying to see how far he can get.

The hackers’ objectives range from theft and extortion, to sabotage, intimidation, revenge, disruption and chaos, to simple nuisance.  The tools available to them are sophisticated, prolific and cheap.  They look to exploit system gaps or weaknesses, or bad digital hygiene, and given our ubiquitous inter-connectedness, we are all only as strong as our weakest link.

Imagine the damage that would ensue if a major digital infrastructure system were to be compromised – in telecommunications, for example, or banking, healthcare, transportation (like air traffic control) or energy transmission.  And it’s not hypothetical.  Foreign hackers have twice brought down the electrical power system in Ukraine with wide-spread consequences, and that’s just a small illustration.

Based on the most recent information from Statistics Canada, cyber crime in this country is causing more than $3 billion in economic losses every year.  Globally, the losses in 2018 are estimated at more than $600 billion.  When asked what keeps him awake at night, the Governor of the Bank of Canada not long ago said the threat of cyber attacks.

So this is a large and very real worry, but we cannot allow ourselves to be driven by fear.  As we roll out Canada’s new Cyber Security Strategy, we are equally focused on the opportunity it creates for the most cutting-edge research, scientific discovery, innovation, advanced engineering and manufacturing, new business development, global exports, job creation, prosperity and growth.

Cyber security is, indeed, a growth industry.  It already contributes $1.7 billion to our GDP and more than 20,000 excellent jobs.  The global market for top quality cyber security products and services stands at close to $100 billion today, and it’s likely to more than double in less than three years.

The global thirst for cyber expertise in all industries across all sectors is enormous.  Every country is struggling to develop the needed talent and skills.  Right now, Canada is probably the world’s fourth largest innovation hub for cyber security, but we have huge potential to do better and better.  With industry and academia, we should reach for the very top.  And to do that we need to leverage all available resources.

In that regard, I note that our last federal budget funded the largest investments in science and innovation ever in Canadian history.  Cyber needs to get an important piece of that action.  Is this a field that might become a focus for Johnson-Shoyama or others at the UofR or the UofS?

The last federal budget also identified more than $750 million over five years for our new federal Cyber plan.

A third of that, $250 million, goes to Shared Services Canada to enhance and protect cyber systems within the Government of Canada.  In my view, the greatest benefit of Shared Services Canada is to ensure coherence and high standards of cyber security across all federal IT systems.

But it’s equally vital to protect private sector systems – so we’re investing $155 million to create the new Canadian Centre for Cyber Security.  It has become our national operational authority, bringing together all federal cyber expertise under one roof – for analysis, advice and services to governments and to the private sector, large and small, including the operators of critical infrastructure.  The Centre also works to enhance public awareness, education and smart digital hygiene.

The RCMP is receiving $200 million to strengthen its cybercrime investigative capacity and stand-up a new National Cyber Crime Coordination Centre – to support, assist and coordinate law enforcement activity in this field across the country.

CSE, CSIS, Public Safety, Global Affairs, Natural Resources, and the Innovation and Employment departments also gain new resources – including for a voluntary certification service to verify Cyber proficiency in the private sector, and for an integrated work-and-learning program for a thousand students.  And that can only be a small beginning.

Another piece of our strategy can be expected in the weeks ahead.  Based on extensive consultations, we are aiming to introduce a legislative framework to help ensure we all understand the obligations we share with each other in a deeply inter-connected and interdependent cyber world.  What are the most sensitive and vulnerable sectors?  What are the appropriate standards and best practices that must apply to those sectors?  What duty does a hacking victim have to report being attacked, apply remedial measures, notify customers or clients, and help protect others?

Again, the crucial point is the weakest link.  It can bring down the whole house of cards and do irreparable harm.  Those links need to be avoided to the maximum extent possible.

Finally today, I want to mention foreign interference.

From time immemorial, governments worldwide have been engaged in efforts to mold public opinion and government policy in other countries in order to advance their own interests.  And as long as that is done in a peaceful, open and transparent manner, within the law, it’s fine.  It’s called diplomacy or treaty negotiations.

Our Team Canada efforts to provide information, shape opinions and build support in the United States for NAFTA are a good and proper example.  All very public and factual.  And without objection.

But when that type of activity becomes covert and clandestine, when it’s dominated by lies and disinformation aimed at misleading people, destabilizing the economy or manipulating democratic processes – a bright red line is crossed.

It could be espionage to steal commercial secrets, or sabotage a global competitor.  It could be murder to silence a vocal critic.  Or maybe foreign agents providing illegal funds to support candidates in election campaigns.  It could be coercing members of a diaspora, or using social media to falsely slander a Cabinet Minister.  It could be funding bots and trolls to stoke anxiety, even hysteria, around sensitive issues.

These types of hostile state activities have become a leading topic of discussion and concern among Canadians, and between our country and our partners in the Five Eyes and the G7.

There is increasing determination to work in concert to uncover illicit behaviours and confront rule-breaking countries.  You will have seen some of that in the past with respect to Iran and North Korea … and Russia – a country that has flouted the rule of law and acceptable norms time and again.

As part of a coordinated response to the nerve agent attacks in the U.K. last spring, Canada expelled four members of Russia’s diplomatic staff.  Foreign Minister Freeland said  “… the four have been identified as intelligence officers or individuals who have used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada’s security or interfere in our democracy.”

At last summer’s G7 Summit hosted by Canada in Charlevoix, a new G7 Rapid Response Mechanism was announced to help tackle common threats.  It will strengthen information sharing on foreign activities that undermine our democracies, and identify opportunities for coordinated responses.

A very recent example in December was the collective condemnation by several countries, including Canada, of hostile cyber activity that hacked and compromised a number of IT service providers around the world.  Canada’s Communications Security Establishment and its counterparts in other democracies concluded that the intrusive activity was almost certainly attributable to the Ministry of State Security in China.  And we all said so – collectively and publicly, together.

Protecting our democratic institutions and countering hostile state activity are pressing priorities for the Government of Canada – and that includes safeguarding the integrity of this year’s federal election.

Domestically, Bill C-76 will help.  It received Royal Assent in December.  Among other things, this Elections Modernization Act will prohibit Canadian third-parties from partisan activities using foreign funds, whether during an election campaign or not.  It also requires all organizations who sell advertising space to not knowingly accept election ads from foreign entities.

Most importantly, Canadians themselves need to become more  alert to what foreign intrusions look like, and sceptical about fake news masquerading as legitimate information, especially on social media.

Furthermore, when our professional security and intelligence agencies become aware of illicit foreign meddling in our democracy, Canadians need to be informed.  One of the key challenges yet to be resolved is this – who blows the whistle?

In the heated partisanship of an election campaign, for example, what trusted authority, agency or group has the credibility, respect and non-partisan credentials necessary to publicly identify and call-out corrupt activity as originating in a foreign capital for the purpose of perverting the course of our democracy?

It’s a challenging problem, but one that needs a credible answer as campaigning gets underway later this year.

Ladies and gentlemen, you have been very patient.  Thank you for your attention.

Let me close by repeating one brief point.

In all of our security and intelligence services at all levels, and among all our first responders and emergency personnel of all kinds, Canadians are fortunate to have an amazing team of strong, talented, dedicated people.  They are indeed world-class.

And every day, they give their best to keep us all safe and to safeguard the precious rights and freedoms that make Canada, Canada.

I thank them for their service.

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