Message from the Director
2020 will forever be known as the year of COVID-19; the year where we experienced lockdowns, practiced new public health measures, lost loved ones to a cruel and relentless virus, and witnessed the world adapt to a new normal. Indeed, the global pandemic has had a profound impact on just about every part of our lives. Yet, despite this societal stress, CSIS remained vigilant of national security threats, both old and new, and carried out its mission to protect Canada and Canadians. While the world adjusted to a new pandemic environment, so too did threat actors. Like many Canadian businesses and organizations, CSIS pivoted by stepping out of the shadows to shine a brighter light on threats to Canada’s national security.
The fluid and rapidly evolving environment caused by COVID-19 has created a situation ripe for exploitation by threat actors seeking to advance their own interests. As Director, I am incredibly proud of the employees of CSIS who worked diligently throughout 2020 to ensure that Canadians were not only protected from threats to our national security, but that government and vulnerable sectors of the Canadian economy were made aware of increased threats targeting our national interests and prosperity.
Very early into the pandemic, CSIS adopted a more visible and proactive public role than ever before by implementing a Canada-wide outreach and engagement initiative focused on academia, research institutions, and private businesses in the biopharmaceutical, life sciences, and data science sectors who were working on COVID-19 vaccine research. Later on, as the pandemic evolved, CSIS gave similar briefings to supply chain associations and other related industry groups on the risks associated with logistics supply networks. Both these outreach activities were conducted to complement other efforts in support of the Government of Canada’s overall pandemic response.
In 2020 our world became increasingly interconnected with many Canadians working from home, presenting more opportunities than ever for cyber-actors to conduct malicious online threat activity. Moreover, we observed how online platforms were used by violent extremists to continue the spread of harmful beliefs, including xenophobic, anti-authority narratives as well as conspiracy theories about the pandemic, in an attempt to rationalize and justify violence.
Similarly, in 2020, CSIS observed espionage and foreign interference activity at levels not seen since the Cold War. In short, the key national security threats facing Canada, namely violent extremism, foreign interference, espionage and malicious cyber activity, accelerated, evolved and in many ways became much more serious for Canadians.
While fulfilling our mission to protect Canada from threats to our national security, a Federal Court decision raised concerns about certain CSIS operational activities as well as with CSIS’s duty of candour obligations to the Court. To be clear, CSIS’s respect for the rule of law is the foundation from which the organization leads our activities. While the National Security Act 2017 addressed the Court’s concerns about operational activities, CSIS has taken a number of concrete actions to address concerns related to its duty of candour. Those concrete actions include: a commissioned review of CSIS’s duty of candour obligations, the creation of a dedicated affiant unit to ensure disclosure obligations to the Court are understood and met, new and extensive training for employees, and a Public Safety-CSIS Cooperation Framework with the goal of ensuring greater transparency and accountability to implement an updated Ministerial Direction for Accountability.
When the CSIS Act was drafted in 1984, telephone books and alligator clips on phone lines were among the tools used to identify threat actors and collect information. Information was stored in silos. The private sector was not a partner in national security. Clearly the world today is much different. The mechanisms that were appropriate 37 years ago are no longer suitable in a world that is now digital by default and where information volume and transit of that information is accelerating exponentially every day.
CSIS will always champion a sophisticated and mature discussion on national security issues, especially those grounded in a Canadian context. In today’s dynamic threat environment, government, civil society and the private sector must work together to protect our national interests. As a matter of course, CSIS will continue to review and assess its authorities to address the national security threats and privacy expectations of Canadians both today and in the future.
CSIS relies on the trust and confidence of Canadians to perform its duties. Part of that trust stems from reassurance that CSIS understands and reflects all communities within Canada. While our work to end systemic racism and make our workplace more inclusive and diverse must continue and grow, I am proud of the significant strides CSIS has made and the organization’s collective resolve to do better. CSIS must represent all the communities it protects.
My focus as Director, especially during this pandemic, has been to ensure that all of our employees work in a healthy, safe, and respectful environment. Given our unique mandate, this meant that when much of the world moved to working from home, CSIS employees continued their critical mission in a way that respected the need to protect the most closely-guarded information in the country. While COVID-19 presented new challenges which required the organization to adapt, I am grateful to every single employee for the personal and professional dedication that they continue to bring to our mission. The people of CSIS are what make the organization a world-leading and respected security intelligence service. Their devoted efforts throughout 2020 have instilled me with great pride. Canadians can and should be proud.
While 2020 changed many things, CSIS’s mandate remained the same. We will never stop in our pursuit to keep Canada and Canadians safe – and do so in a way that upholds the trust Canadians place in us.
Canadian Security Intelligence Service
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