Working with Canadians

At its core, national security is about protecting people. National security work requires the trust and help of the Canadian public. CSIS interacts with Canadians to engage with communities who may be targeted by threat actors, to seek different insights and perspectives, to provide important security information, and to inform national security investigations. After all, we all have a role to play in protecting our national security.

Connecting with Communities

CSIS continues to engage with community leaders, members, and advocacy groups to offer support and solidarity and to reinforce the Government of Canada’s position that there is no place in Canada for racial prejudice, discrimination and hate. These ongoing discussions also provide an opportunity to affirm CSIS’s commitment to ensure the safety and security of all Canadians and to seek input on how CSIS can build trust with marginalized and diverse communities. Further to these efforts, CSIS has sought advice on best practices to ensure its external engagement reflects intersectional considerations and is sensitive to bias, discrimination, and inequity.

In 2021, CSIS engaged with self-identified representatives of Asian Canadian, Muslim Canadian, as well as Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities. In addition, CSIS engaged with anti-racism and counter-radicalization groups as well as those focused on addressing the social impacts of national security laws, policies and discourse on racialized communities. These efforts were aimed at listening, better understanding the communities that CSIS serves, establishing trusted relationships, and conveying threat-related information to increase awareness and resilience.

This foundational trust is imperative and will help CSIS to foster the relationships needed to better protect the communities most affected by threats, including from violent extremism, foreign interference and espionage. CSIS was recognized for its efforts in 2021 to build bridges and conduct meaningful engagement with racialized communities, which were highlighted as a best practice in the 2021 Annual Report of the Operations of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.

As CSIS continues to grow and deepen partnerships with diverse communities, the knowledge shared by these partners will help inform how CSIS operates and, in turn, will help CSIS continue to earn the confidence and trust of Canadians and invite them to contribute directly to conversations around national security. 

Communicating with all Canadians

The current Director of CSIS has often said that “keeping Canada safe requires a national-security literate population.” This imperative, of fostering and supporting informed dialogue about national security and intelligence issues, was reflected in CSIS’s external communications throughout 2021. The importance of open communication with Canadians pushed CSIS further out of the shadows of secrecy and into the public spotlight.

CSIS developed publicly available resources on foreign interference, which were published in a range of foreign languages in order to ensure that vulnerable communities can access threat information in their language of choice. In keeping with the organization’s commitment to transparency and supporting resilience, in advance of the Federal election, CSIS also published a report on Foreign Threats to Canada’s Democratic Process.

Through briefings, public remarks and social media, CSIS continues to communicate that national security concerns about the activities of some foreign states are not to be interpreted as, or conflated with, concerns about the people associated with or whose families have immigrated to Canada from those states.

CSIS continues to seek out new ways of connecting and communicating with Canadians. In 2021, other avenues of communication included a public speech by the Director of CSIS at the Centre for International Governance Innovation; public briefings and appearances by senior executives at a range of public events, including before the National Security Transparency Advisory Group (NS-TAG); coordinating and publishing Public Opinion Research on CSIS and national security threats; and extensive social media campaigns to raise awareness on the threat environment. 

CSIS on Social Media

CSIS on social media

4 Platforms:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube

47,000 Twitter Followers
1,950 Tweets to date

@csiscanada @scrscanada

Protecting Canadian Research and Interests

In 2021, CSIS continued to support Canada’s research, health, and supply chain sectors’ pandemic related efforts. With the release in July 2021 of the Government of Canada’s National Security Guidelines for Research Partnerships, CSIS’s outreach and engagement focus shifted from the pandemic to research security. To help protect Canadian innovation, intellectual property, and the valuable data that support them, CSIS provided dozens of briefings in academic forums, to individual universities, and to research institutions, in support of the wider Government of Canada effort, led by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), to implement the Guidelines. In addition to providing briefings, CSIS also developed supporting guidance materials, checklists, case studies and other materials which were included in the government’s Safeguarding Your Research portal, including province and territory-specific guidance on research security.

Related to these research security efforts, CSIS also engaged a number of associations and companies in the emerging and deep technology sectors. The aim of CSIS’s engagement was to increase awareness of state-sponsored espionage threats targeting these sectors, and lay the groundwork for reciprocal partnerships that will help protect Canadian research and development and ensure Canadians and the Government of Canada have access to leading edge and trusted technology. This emerging technology sector is vibrant and growing, with research in areas as diverse as agri-tech, artificial intelligence, quantum, smart cities, and clean-tech.

CSIS also reached out to Canada’s business and venture capital community as important partners in protecting economic security and advancing Canadian prosperity interests. Some of the industry associations and innovation leaders CSIS engaged with over the past year include: the MaRS Momentum Program, the Canadian Institute of Traffic and Transportation, Supply Chain Canada, the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters, the Internet Society of Canada, the Canadian Association of Security Intelligence Studies, the Business Development Bank of Canada’s Deep Tech Venture Fund, the Best Defence Conference, the Canadian Science Policy Conference, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Community of Tech Transfer Professionals, and the International Intellectual Property Forum Québec.

Listening to Experts

As part of its core mandate of supporting and advising the Government of Canada, CSIS continued to draw upon external expertise, by curating and presenting timely insights on a wide range of topics to help inform and support broader government efforts to serve Canadians. To this end, in 2021, CSIS hosted 16 virtual expert briefings and produced 34 Commissioned Reports, which were shared across the Government of Canada and with other key partners. These briefings and reports covered a range of relevant topics, including ethical artificial intelligence, state-sponsored disinformation, ideologically motivated violent extremism and others. Working with non-governmental experts on prescient issues helped the Government, as a whole, to be both better equipped to respond to the concerns of Canadians, and to integrate Canadian expertise into government-wide operational and policy decision-making.

In addition to listening to academic experts, CSIS also worked to mentor students. For the second consecutive year, officials from CSIS mentored a cohort of graduate-level students at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, conducting a year-long research project into subjects of relevance to national security. CSIS officials also participated in class and seminar discussions at universities across Canada to engage with students on national security-related issues.

Transparency

The confidence of Canadians in national security efforts is fundamental to CSIS’s legitimacy, operational effectiveness, and institutional credibility. CSIS recognizes the importance of transparency within the national security community which includes open and clear communication with Canadians.  Public communication, transparency and review together enable Canadians to trust their security intelligence service.

In 2021, CSIS continued its work with the National Security Transparency Advisory Group (NS-TAG). The advisory group, established in 2019, advises the Government of Canada on the implementation of the commitment to increase transparency across Canada’s national security and intelligence departments and agencies. NS-TAG advises on how to infuse transparency into Canada’s national security policies, programs, best practices, and activities in a way that will increase democratic accountability. It also seeks to increase public awareness, engagement and access to national security information. In 2021, CSIS’s Director General for Academic Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement participated in one of NS-TAG’s meetings to discuss diversity and inclusion at CSIS and in the national security and intelligence community. The meeting highlighted the objectives of CSIS’s stakeholder engagement program, the progress made, and guiding principles for engagement, which include transparency, reciprocity, respect, listening, and learning. The meeting also included frank discussions about challenges encountered, and CSIS’s commitment to continue building foundational trust with various diverse communities.

CSIS’s Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) branch also contributes to CSIS’s transparency efforts by balancing the public’s right of access to information with the legitimate need to protect sensitive national security information and maintain the effective functioning of government. The Access to Information Act (ATIA) and Privacy Act provide Canadians, as well as individuals and corporations present in Canada, the right to access federal government records. The CSIS ATIP branch regularly publishes information as part of proactive publication requirements in accordance with the ATIA, as well as summaries of recent ATIA releases to afford the public an opportunity to access previously released records. CSIS prides itself on providing excellent service and a proactive approach to promote transparency.

ATIP Stats for 2021
Number of Privacy Act requests recieved 1161
Number of ATIA requests received 795
Number of Information requests received 647

Review and Compliance

In 2021, CSIS continued to address compliance in line with its operational compliance program which was founded on a recognition that compliance is essential to maintaining the trust and confidence of the public, Parliament, the Federal Court, and review bodies. Compliance also supports CSIS’s accountability and transparency requirements, as well as operational effectiveness.

Recent government commitments to enhance CSIS’s compliance program were used in 2021 to make critical investments in CSIS’s information technology infrastructure to support the process around warrants, designing an approach for reporting and assessing potential operational compliance incidents, embedding experts in operational branches to provide timely advice and guidance, and developing clear internal policies and procedures for employees.

In May 2020, the Federal Court issued a decision in which it found that institutional failings, by both CSIS and the department of Justice, led to a breach of CSIS’s duty of candour to the Court in failing to proactively identify and disclose all relevant facts in support of warrant applications. The Court recommended a comprehensive external review of the policies and practices of the Department of Justice and CSIS in this area. In response, the Ministers of Public Safety and Justice referred the matter to the National Security Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA). Throughout 2021, CSIS actively supported the review process and welcomes the findings and recommendations of NSIRA. Internal efforts to improve processes, assisted by recommendations of a former Deputy Attorney General, were underway before NSIRA’s review began. CSIS continues to demonstrate its commitment to the duty of candour through regular technical briefings to the Court, the proactive sharing of information on compliance matters, and careful implementation of the Joint Policy on Duty of Candour with the Department of Justice. CSIS looks forward to demonstrating the progress that has been made to date in addressing the Court’s concerns, and identifying opportunities for further improvement.

The National Security Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) and NSIRA play a critical role in conducting independent reviews of CSIS’s activities, and offering recommendations for continuous improvement. Their annual public reports provide insight into CSIS’s activities and challenges, and help foster positive and informed discussion with Canadians on what their intelligence agency is and should be doing in today’s threat environment. In addition to actively supporting a number of reviews through the provision of materials and briefings, CSIS has also facilitated access to its regional offices throughout 2021 to enable the Committees to complete their studies and prepare their reports. Both NSICOP and NSIRA publish redacted reviews, which include CSIS responses to recommendations. This practice increases transparency for Canadians and emphasizes CSIS’s commitment to continual improvement.

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