CSIS Act Amendments: Bolstering Canada’s counter-foreign interference legislation


Foreign interference is one of the greatest strategic threats facing Canada’s sovereignty and democracy. It threatens all orders of government, the private sector, media, academia, communities and individuals in Canada. Foreign interference attempts to erode our democratic processes and institutions, interferes in our economy and critical sectors and threatens Canadian communities.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is mandated to detect, and when appropriate, take action to disrupt threats, including those posed by foreign interference. The nature of these threats continues to  evolve over time, so updating the framework to address modern challenges is crucial and will bring benefits.

The CSIS Act was enacted in 1984 at a time when the prolific use and expansion of digital technology could not have been foreseen. Today, digital technologies permeate every aspect of life in Canada. Electronic information and data have become a large and important part of national security investigations but key, and often basic, pieces of information are no longer accessible through conventional investigative techniques. Countering the foreign interference threat that Canada faces today requires urgent updates to the CSIS Act to better equip CSIS to carry out its mandate to investigate, advise the Government of Canada, and take measures to reduce this strategic threat to the security of Canada.

Moreover, the targets of hostile states and threat actors have shifted beyond the Government of Canada, to partners in academia, private industry, provincial, territorial, and Indigenous governments, and community groups. These entities often lack access to critical  government information that would help them build resiliency against such threats. Investigating the foreign interference and other threats that Canada faces today requires that CSIS be able to equip national security partners, operate in a digital world, and respond to evolving threats.

Consultations with the Canadian public

CSIS and Public Safety held extensive online, virtual and in-person consultations on amending the CSIS Act from November 24, 2023, to February 2, 2024. A diverse range of stakeholders, including representatives from provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments and partners, academia, the business community, as well as community representatives were engaged in this context. These consultations provided people from across the country with an opportunity to share their views on potential amendments to the CSIS Act. The valuable input and advice gathered were instrumental in shaping the drafting of this legislation.

During consultations, participants noted that advancements in technology and evolving threats have created a need for updates to the CSIS Act, and looked favourably at changes that would better equip CSIS and the Government of Canada to respond to national security threats such as foreign interference. Respondents held a generally positive view toward the need for amendments across each of the categories under consideration. The desire for CSIS to share more information emerged as a prominent theme. Stakeholders, including representatives from provincial, territorial, municipal and Indigenous governments and partners, often expressed that receiving information from CSIS would help them better understand, recognize and build resilience against foreign interference.

While overall support was strong, not all participants favoured all the proposals. A minority of respondents expressed concerns with respect to privacy, and the need for strong oversight and accountability. They also noted the importance of continuing to strengthen trust in CSIS as an institution and ensuring continued efforts by CSIS to increase transparency. Finally, respondents frequently noted the need for Canada to be stronger in the face of national security threats like foreign interference.

The What We Heard and Learned Report has been posted on the Consultation webpage to provide greater transparency to the Canadian public on the extensive consultations that were undertaken to inform the policy development and drafting of legislative amendments.

Proposed legislative amendments

Targeted amendments to modernize the CSIS Act would better equip the Government of Canada to build resilience and to counter the modern threats Canada faces today, including foreign interference.

To ensure the safety, security, and prosperity of Canada, CSIS must be able to:

Equip national security partners

  • This legislation would enable broader disclosure of CSIS information to key partners beyond the Government of Canada, with appropriate safeguards, to help partners build resiliency to threats.
  • Amendments would help partners build resiliency to threats by helping them to better identify and integrate proactive measures.

Operate in a digital world

  • The absence of tailored judicial warrants, impedes, delays, and at times altogether halts national security investigations, diminishing CSIS’ ability to protect all Canadians. 
  • This legislation would increase CSIS’ ability to be more agile and effective in its investigations, by introducing new warrants for specific investigative techniques.
  • It would also enhance CSIS’ capacity to collect and use datasets.
  • Amendments would close the gap created by technology as well as regain the ability for CSIS to collect, from within Canada, foreign intelligence about the intentions and capabilities of foreign states and foreign individuals in Canada.

Respond to evolving threats

  • This legislation would implement a statutory requirement for Parliament to periodically review the CSIS Act to ensure that it keeps pace with advances in technology and data, as well as other evolutions in the national security space.

Accountability and Transparency

The authorities in the CSIS Act must reflect the values and ideals of the Canadian public, whom CSIS seeks to protect. Informed by the consultations, these amendments have been developed considering the high expectation of privacy that people in Canada have, including the protection provided by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms implications as core considerations.

The amendments maintain existing systems of review, oversight, and transparency with appropriate safeguards, including for all new powers. CSIS has multiple layers of protections to ensure that CSIS is accountable and that the rights of people in Canada are respected. For instance, CSIS is required to seek a Federal Court warrant before undertaking activities that are more than minimally intrusive. CSIS would continue to require the approval of the Federal Court for all warrants.

The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians also provide an important review function for CSIS’ activities. Certain activities, such as collection and retention of datasets, are also subject to the review and approval of the Intelligence Commissioner.

Finally, CSIS is accountable to the Canadian public and is committed to increasing transparency to ensure that they have trust in their security intelligence service. CSIS continues to listen to the needs and concerns of the communities it seeks to protect, and works to maintain this trust to effectively meet its mandate. With these amendments, the Government of Canada will be better equipped to protect Canada and the Canadian public from foreign interference and other threats.

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