Message from the Director

David Vigneault, Director

David Vigneault

Almost 35 years ago, on July 16, 1984, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) came into existence.

As a new civilian security intelligence agency, CSIS entered a world that held significant challenges – some quite different than those we face today, and some that are very similar.

The international landscape of 1984 was still dominated by the Cold War, as the United States, the Soviet Union, and their respective allies, sought to protect and project their interests. At the same time, we saw the early days of a movement in Afghanistan that would evolve into Al Qaeda, a terrorist group that went on to carry out the 9/11 attacks. When the CSIS Act was written, a wiretap to intercept the communications of a threat actor could be done with alligator clips on a telephone wire and the internet, smartphones and artificial intelligence were more science fiction than reality. Similarly, information was locally available, stored in one place, and transmission was simple. Today, a single email may transit through multiple jurisdictions at the same time and be stored in a server on another continent across the ocean.

Terrorism remains the number one national security threat to public safety for Canada. Al Qaeda may not be as strong as it was two decades ago, but it still wields influence on likeminded groups around the globe. The threat posed by Daesh remains, even as its stronghold decreases. These groups and others inspire and radicalize individuals, including Canadians, to commit violence or travel to participate in terrorist activities overseas. The threat posed by those who then return to Canada, or were unable to leave in the first place, continues to be a priority for CSIS. Canada has also experienced first-hand the threat posed by individuals and online communities who harbour extreme right-wing views and are promoting or engaging in acts of violence. We have not only witnessed these inspired attacks: we have felt their impact. Using low-sophistication tactics, such as vehicle ramming and firearms, attackers attempt to cause harm to achieve their goals. We are increasingly preoccupied by the violent threat posed by those looking to advocate/support/engage in racially motivated, ethno-nationalist, anti-government and misogynist violence.

While terrorism has occupied a significant portion of our collective attention for almost two decades, other national security threats – such as foreign interference and espionage – continued to persist and pose long- term, strategic challenges for Canada. Activities by hostile states are detrimental to Canada’s economic, industrial, military and technological advantage, and have a corrosive effect on our democratic systems and institutions. Interference by foreign spies, or people acting on their behalf, remains the greatest danger. These hostile actors engage in sophisticated methods, leveraging technology and person-to-person methods. The scale, speed, range, and impact of foreign interference has grown as a result of the Internet, social media platforms, and the availability of cheaper and more accessible cyber tools. The use of cyber by hostile actors, a tool that did not exist when CSIS was created, poses enormous risk as Canadians increasingly live their lives and store their personal, and corporate, information online.

The threat environment today is complex, continuously evolving, diverse, and global. In today’s globalized environment, we must reflect on the tools we have to monitor threats to Canadians that originate abroad as well, protecting Canada’s national interests by understanding activities of hostile states.

Since its creation, CSIS has always strived to ensure its intelligence is relevant and faces challenges when its intelligence is used to protect national security through criminal investigations, prosecutions, enforcement actions by partners at CBSA and Public Safety, and national security reviews of foreign investments, to name just a few. Providing this advice while protecting our sources, who put much at risk, and our methods and relationships, remains a challenge. So too does the massive volume and variety of digital communications, ubiquitous encryption, and other technological advancements challenge the Service’s ability to collect intelligence. While tools such as encryption are essential for safeguarding Canadians and Canadian institutions, threat actors also exploit these developments to their advantage. At the same time, technological changes have prompted new online behaviours which have radically shifted how we understand privacy.

To pursue its mandate effectively, CSIS must be confident that it has the authorities and tools to fulfill its mandate to investigate and advise Government. A statute drafted in 1984 is not as relevant decades later, as both the Security Intelligence Review Committee and the Federal Court have highlighted. Modernizing the CSIS Act began with Bill C-44; had new authorities introduced in Bill C-51; and continues with the major changes proposed in Bill C-59 (An Act respecting national security matters). While this has addressed specific challenges and provides some modern authorities, there is still work to be done.

CSIS, as an organization, must remain vigilant in assessing whether our current authorities, tools and resources are keeping pace with the continuous changes in the threat, technological and legal landscape. Going forward, ensuring that CSIS employees have an updated legal framework and tools in place to carry out their mission continues to be an essential priority. This in turn ensures CSIS can provide timely and relevant intelligence to Government, enhancing our national security and interests in a complex global environment.

As the Director of CSIS, I take the greatest pride in the exceptional quality of our workforce. The people of CSIS serve their country extremely well, and they take their responsibility to protect Canada very much to heart, carrying out their duties in the knowledge that they are making us a safer country. As they are the organization’s most valuable resource, ensuring that they have a safe, healthy and respectful workplace is essential.

In my role as Director, I am guided by the overarching objective of supporting excellence in fulfilling our core mandate of investigating and advising Government of threats to the security of Canada. I am proud to say that, in CSIS’ most recent public opinion research, 95 per cent of respondents indicated that they place a great deal of importance on CSIS’ role and a further 80 per cent indicated they trust that CSIS will safeguard their rights and freedoms.

At CSIS, accountability is at the centre of everything we do, and our compliance with the laws of Canada is paramount. It is only with the trust and confidence of Canadians that we have the social license to perform our duties. It is therefore incumbent upon the organization to demonstrate that we have earned that trust.

With that in mind, we are taking steps to be more transparent about our work. By engaging Canadians about the threats we’re facing, we can better explain how our authorities allow us to fulfill our mission. We will continue to work with our partners in building protections against these threats.

As we approach our 35th anniversary, I reflect regularly on where we have been, and where we are going as an organization. What has not changed is that CSIS is committed to fulfilling our most important mission: to keep Canadians safe. And we will continue to do so in a manner that reflects this great country’s values, and the trust that Canadians have placed in us.


David Vigneault, Director

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