CSIS Response to National Security Transparency Advisory Group (NS-TAG) Report

 “How National Security and Intelligence Institutions Engage with Racialized Communities”

CSIS congratulates the members of the National Security Transparency Advisory Group (NS-TAG) on the publication of the report “How National Security and Intelligence Institutions Engage with Racialized Communities.”  CSIS has read the report with great interest and was pleased to support the objectives of NS-TAG through participation in the 29 September 2021 meeting on the theme of “Connecting with Diverse Communities: Enhancing How National Security Organizations Engage, Build Trust, and Evaluate Success.”

We were extremely pleased to see that many of the recommendations in this new report align with, and drew on, the work that CSIS has been doing through its Stakeholder Engagement program since 2019. Given that the report covers Canada’s national security & intelligence community as a whole, and in furtherance of CSIS’ commitments to transparency and accountability, we would like to offer this public response to the recommendations and findings of the report in order to provide additional information on CSIS-specific efforts to engage with racialized communities.

CSIS acknowledges that conversations, policy and legislative deliberations, and public communications on national security matters have traditionally been limited to a relatively small and exclusive cadre of government officials whose experiences and backgrounds have not always been reflective of those whose safety we are honoured to protect. In acknowledging these realities, CSIS recognizes that change and modernization are required if Canada is to properly respond to today’s multi-faceted national security challenges. CSIS is committed to enlisting into the conversation those who have felt, or been, excluded from discussions on national security matters in the past, and to drawing on diverse sources and perspectives in carrying out its mandate.

It is worth highlighting that engagement with racialized communities is not the exclusive focus of CSIS’ Stakeholder Engagement program, created in 2019. The program advances CSIS strategic engagement with stakeholders in all segments of society including other levels of government, civil society, academia, the private sector and communities (racialized and other). That said, engagement with racialized and other traditionally-marginalized and equity-deserving groups is a significant priority area of work.

Section 4 of the report is focused on Artificial Intelligence which is a topic on which CSIS and NS-TAG have not yet had the opportunity to exchange information or discuss. CSIS fully recognizes the enormous power of AI and the threats and opportunities that it presents. For these reasons, we have carefully reviewed this section of the report and will be looking to actively engage with and draw on the perspectives and expertise of Canadians on this matter. We understand that AI will be the theme of future study undertaken by the NS-TAG. CSIS looks forward to engaging with the committee on that topic in the course of that work, and has taken note of the guiding principles and findings included in this report as drawn from the experiences of allies and other members of the national security and intelligence community.

For ease of reference, our responses to each of the report recommendations are embedded below. In the interests of transparency, we have also attached here information supplemental to that found in Annex C.

Recommendation 1: We recommend that national security institutions (especially CSIS, the RCMP and CBSA) develop and publicly release their engagement strategies.

CSIS Response: In future, CSIS will provide additional information on the activities and outcomes of the stakeholder engagement program in a dedicated section of the CSIS annual Public Report. This section will address questions identified in the NS-TAG report including the strategy for and objectives of our engagement, our approach, resourcing, and pathways through which engagement informs decision-making. Publication of additional information about CSIS engagement will support trust-building by increasing awareness and transparency, while ensuring necessary safeguards are in place to protect the privacy interests of stakeholders.

Recommendation 2: We recommend that national security and intelligence institutions make more effort to ensure that they can acquire and foster the skills appropriate for meaningful engagement.

CSIS Response: CSIS supports the acquisition and advancement of engagement skills through a combination of internal and external training opportunities to ensure employees incorporate best-practices into engagement, outreach and liaison activities. These training opportunities include bias-sensitivity, emotional intelligence, cultural and historical knowledge, understanding GBA+ and intersectionality, linguistic training, communications, and facilitation. Current AOSE officials have availed themselves of bespoke stakeholder engagement training offered by leading educational institutions in Canada and internationally, as have other CSIS employees.

Recommendation 3: We recommend that national security agencies support more research of the type conducted by the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence (CCCEPV) to help them acquire the necessary knowledge while, at the same time, building bridges with the research community.

CSIS Response: CSIS’ Academic Outreach program has been in place since 2008 and is widely recognized within the 5 EYES and beyond as the most successful program of its kind. For nearly fifteen years, CSIS Academic Outreach has connected the national security and intelligence community in Canada with leading experts within and outside Canada. CSIS’ Academic Outreach program draws subject matter expertise from within government, academia, business and other external sources from across Canada and around the world to help CSIS better understand current and emerging issues related to Canada’s broad national security interests. The program creates the multi-disciplinary space within CSIS to help us gain a richer understanding of national security issues and develop a long-term view of national and global trends. Our engagement with external experts from a broad range of backgrounds and experience helps to challenge assumptions and cultural biases, and sharpens our research and analytical capacities.

The Academic Outreach program supports Government of Canada and public initiatives by hosting workshops, presentations, and round-table discussions; by commissioning open source research; and by participating in inter-governmental committees. These efforts inform evidence-based decision-making and policy development in the Government of Canada and the public sector. The program also leads in coordinating a government-wide approach to academic outreach, and is often consulted on the development and implementation of similar programs within Canada and abroad. CSIS also fosters a vibrant security research ecosystem within the Government of Canada through active collaboration and exchange with programs including CCCEPV and the BSDI Engagement, Outreach & Research program at Public Safety Canada, DND’s MINDS program, and the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security’s Academic Outreach & Engagement team.

The strong relationships forged through the Academic Outreach program have been foundational to the success to date of the newer Stakeholder Engagement program added in 2019. CSIS fully appreciates the need to ensure engagement with any community is based on a “detailed understanding of the needs of specific communities and of their dynamics, past experiences, and concerns.” For this reason, CSIS has taken an incremental approach to expanding its network of stakeholders in order to ensure that each is built on the solid foundation of understanding and respect essential for establishing trust and building long-lasting relationships.

Recommendation 4: We recommend that engagement programs avoid the trap of reaching out to communities only in times of crisis. To be successful, engagement needs to be pro-active, not reactive.

CSIS Response: As described by DG AOSE in his appearance before NS-TAG in September 2021, this understanding was a driving impetus for the creation of CSIS’ stakeholder engagement program and is a guiding principle of activities undertaken to date. CSIS fully agrees on the importance of establishing ongoing relationships and dialogue with stakeholders and partners. These relationships provide a solid foundation for collective action in times of crisis, and enable CSIS to more effectively fulfill its mandate to protect the safety and security of all Canadians. In addition, establishing trust and fostering dialogue ensures CSIS is aware of the priorities, concerns and perspectives of communities on an ongoing basis and can work together with the community to increase its resilience against national security threats.

With regard to comments and questions about which stakeholders and partners CSIS has engaged, particularly within racialized communities, CSIS disclosure of these engagements has been guided by the preferences and priorities of stakeholders.  In instances where they may be a trust deficit, it is important to give dialogue and relationships the opportunity to grow outside the public eye.  CSIS policy is to defer to its stakeholders with regard to whether and when our relationships are made public.  CSIS engagement program is aimed at establishing long-lasting relationships of trust; as such, the focus is not on public reporting of these relationships.

Recommendation 5: We recommend that Canada’s national security and intelligence institutions ensure that they reach out not only at the level of community leaders, but also at the grassroots level.

CSIS Response: CSIS agrees with this recommendation to engage at all levels of a community, including with leadership and at the individual and local levels. CSIS’ co-developed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategy contains approved recommendations to create new community outreach officers based in CSIS Regional Offices across Canada. These positions will augment CSIS’ capacity to engage at all levels. Prioritization of quality and sustainability over quantity in relationship-building and engagement will mean that CSIS will still take an incremental and gradual approach to initiating, fostering, and growing relationships with community leaders. 

Recommendation 6: We strongly recommend that the outcome of engagement activities be actively integrated into policy making and operational processes.

CSIS Response: The Academic Outreach & Stakeholder Engagement program at CSIS reports directly to the Deputy Director of Policy and Strategic Partnerships, ensuring that the outcome of engagement activities feeds directly into policy and partnership processes. In addition, engagement outcomes and lessons learned are shared with operational colleagues at CSIS headquarters and in Regions across Canada. AOSE maintains very strong connections with Regional Liaison teams across Canada to ensure that there is a cohesive approach to all of CSIS’ public-facing activities (outreach, engagement and liaison).

Recommendation 7: National security and intelligence institutions need to clearly inform racialized communities on how engagement feeds into their decision-making processes.

CSIS Response: CSIS agrees that more can be done to ensure that racialized communities understand how engagement feeds into decision-making. To that end, CSIS will include in its annual Public Report a dedicated and expanded section on the activities and outcomes of the stakeholder engagement program.

Recommendation 8: It is essential that there be a strong firewall between engagement activities and intelligence collection efforts.

CSIS Response: CSIS stakeholder engagement program was established with due consideration to these concerns. The distinct objectives and intentions of stakeholder engagement have been communicated throughout the organization, are clearly conveyed to all stakeholders, and are reflected in its reporting structure which places the branch within the Directorate of Policy and Strategic Partnerships (and not in the Directorate of Operations). Information about engagement is shared within the organization to enhance operational understanding of the concerns, perspectives and priorities of stakeholders and the threat environment; to inform policy and operational processes; and to fulfill obligations for retention of corporate knowledge. When, on occasion, information from stakeholder engagement is deemed to be of possible relevance from an investigative perspective, and with the consent of the stakeholder, CSIS’ engagement team will put the stakeholder in contact with operational colleagues.

Recommendation 9: We recommend that national intelligence institutions provide accessible information on how they conduct engagement activities.

CSIS Response: CSIS invites current and prospective stakeholders to contact the AOSE program at any time to discuss how it conducts engagement activities. Contact information is available on the CSIS website and provided in all interactions with stakeholders. In future, CSIS will include in its annual Public Report a dedicated section on the activities and outcomes of the stakeholder engagement program. CSIS is also working with leaders, such as university administrators further to the example cited in this NS-TAG report, to increase understanding of the distinction between CSIS’ stakeholder engagement activities and its operational activities such as interviews and the rationale and authority for each.

Recommendation 10: We recommend that national security and intelligence institutions aim to be more visible and proactive in developing engagement mechanisms with local stakeholders.

CSIS Response: CSIS is working to expand information-sharing and partnership with local stakeholders at the provincial, municipal and community level. CSIS will continue to proactively pursue these kinds of partnerships, including in a visible manner where appropriate and where that aligns with the priorities and preferences of local stakeholders. CSIS’ priority is not public recognition of its engagement efforts but rather building meaningful, sustainable and productive partnerships. All CSIS stakeholder engagement activities are transparent, open and reciprocal as they relate to the stakeholder themselves, even if not always publicly acknowledged for reasons previously explained.

Recommendation 11: We recommend that national security and intelligence institutions invest more time to learn from various local initiatives.

CSIS Response: CSIS’ stakeholder engagement activities have been shaped and informed by best-practices and lessons-learned in all jurisdictions and from all sectors of society. CSIS has also drawn on the leadership and expertise of civil society and advocacy groups in identifying meaningful ways that CSIS can contribute to collective efforts to combat racism, discrimination, extremism and hate of all kinds. CSIS also benefits from its national footprint with Regional offices located across the country staffed in part with Liaison officers working closely with local partners and stakeholders to ensure that CSIS is aware of active and emerging local initiatives, and can be in a position to support them as needed by leveraging resources and contacts, e.g. in other government departments. 

Recommendation 12: We recommend that national security organizations not only continue and intensify their efforts to diversify their human resources, but also that they be more transparent on issues such as data about employment and existing barriers for racialized individuals.

CSIS Response: CSIS has significantly accelerated its proactive recruitment efforts in recent years and expanded the data collected in order to inform intersectional analysis of CSIS workforce composition. CSIS recently approved a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy which is the result of several years of review and consideration of systemic barriers, discrimination and racism in the organization. The plan includes concrete actions to increase diversity in our Executive team; to integrate an intersectional lens in our operations; forge closer relationships with communities; and to integrate diversity, equity and inclusion commitments into our culture, training and decision-making. It also contains specific means through which CSIS can advance the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action. In addition to codifying our commitments in this strategy, we have also made a People First approach a pillar of our new organizational strategy. This pillar reflects our intention to continue prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion to strengthen our organization and achieve our mission. This pillar is based on a core principle of building an inclusive CSIS culture based on trust and respect where diversity in all forms is embraced.

Recommendation 13: We recommend that national security and intelligence institutions add a link to their complaints processes on their webpage.

CSIS Response: The process to file a complaint against CSIS is set out in legislation and described in detail on the NSIRA website Complaints: CSIS - NSIRA (nsira-ossnr.gc.ca).  CSIS is considering adding this link to our Website which provides detailed information on the multiple mechanisms and channels which exist to ensure CSIS accountability and review Accountability and Review - Canada.ca.

Recommendation 14: We recommend that the government consider setting up a simple, one-stop shop to explain how to initiate a complaint.

CSIS Response: The process for initiating a complaint will vary depending on the department or agency involved.  The process to file a complaint against CSIS is set out in legislation and described in detail on the NSIRA website Complaints: CSIS - NSIRA (nsira-ossnr.gc.ca).  

Supplementary Information further to Annex C – CSIS Additions (Original List Follows)

Engagement Activities

In 2021-22 CSIS’ Academic Outreach & Stakeholder Engagement program continued to expand efforts within its stakeholder engagement remit, participating in approximately 70 engagements with external stakeholders outside the federal government. Of these engagements, 26 were focused on Research Security, 20 on Emerging Technologies, 20 on communities, 4 focused directly on economic security, 3 on supply chain integrity and 2 were more general in nature.  Briefings to 10 universities in 4 provinces and territories also served to dispel myths about CSIS’ operational activities, inform academic dialogue, and to a CSIS’ recruitment efforts.

AOSE engaged with a number of community and advocacy groups with the aim of fostering lasting relationships, building CSIS’ reputation as a reliable and trusted partner, and increasing the resilience of communities targeted for foreign interference and extremism. These community representatives included advocates from anti-racism and antisemitism groups, human rights organizations, Inuit leaders, Muslim and BIPOC representative organizations. AOSE plans to accelerate this type of community engagement in the coming period. AOSE’s work in community engagement was cited as a best-practice in the 2020-21 Annual Report on the Operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.[i]

The above engagement activities were supported and amplified by the production of a number of unclassified guidance pamphlets on topics including research security, foreign interference, and smart cities which are now publicly available on CSIS’ website and which were promoted to very positive response via a comprehensive social media campaign. For the first time, a number of these pamphlets were translated into multiple languages to ensure expanded accessibility. A new pamphlet on the threat of ideologically motivated violent extremism (IMVE) and its disproportionate impact on communities of colour, Indigenous Peoples, religious minorities and LGBTQ2+ communities is in development and planned for publication in late Spring 2022.

In addition to the guidance pamphlets, AOSE expanded the dissemination of its open-source national security and intelligence newsletter beyond its original remit of Government of Canada partners, to now include non-government stakeholders. The document supports public discussion of national security and intelligence issues, broadly defined, drawing from a wide range of sources. A January 2022 edition of the newsletter was co-edited by Inuit partners and featured content highlighting Inuit experiences and priorities, and Northern and Arctic security matters. The newsletter is currently distributed every two weeks to approximately 900 individuals across the Government of Canada, provincial governments and other external stakeholders. The document is also used by CSIS Regional Liaison units to bolster and advance relationships with external stakeholders and partners across Canada.

Communication Activities

The 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 languages in order to ensure that communities can access threat information in their language of choice. These are available on the CSIS website, were promoted through CSIS social media, and were shared with partners at all levels of government and segments of society.

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 2022, the Director made public remarks at the University of British Columbia’s Institute of Asian Research on protecting national security in partnership with all 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 executives have also appeared at a number of conferences and symposia, on podcasts, and before parliamentary committees to share information publicly about CSIS and its activities.

CSIS maintains an active presence on 4 social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube to facilitate information sharing about CSIS mandate and activities, and as a means to amplify messaging of partners and Government priorities.

Initiatives to Hire and Retain a Diverse Work Force

CSIS has developed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) strategy to be launched in June 2022, which included consultations from working groups and employee networks across the organization. As part of the DEI strategy, concrete employment equity targets will be set to address gaps with workforce availability.

A DEI toolkit geared to managers and leaders has been created. This resource includes an updated lexicon, available training, best practices, how-to guides focussing on accessibility and other diversity-related resources. Tools specifically related to persons with disabilities include myths and facts about persons with disabilities, how to create accessible documents, and fundamentals of workplace accommodations.

CSIS also has a new Accessibility Strategy is in development and will be completed by the end of 2022 in accordance with the requirements of the Accessible Canada Act.

CSIS has conducted a dedicated job competition for Intelligence Officers who are Indigenous or identify as a visible minority to broaden opportunities for these two employment equity groups.  In addition, a pilot project to trial a new way to recruit Intelligence Officers was undertaken in our largest and most diverse regional officers with the aim to attract diverse candidates.

CSIS encourages hiring managers to consider flexible official language requirements when staffing diverse candidates, is developing tools to facilitate hiring managers in identify employment equity gaps prior to initiating a staffing action, and has mandated bias-free selection training for interview board members and placed diverse board members on assessment panels for job appointments and promotions.

Within CSIS, current employee-driven networks include the Young Professional Network, CSIS Women’s Network, BIPOC Network and PRIDE Network. In addition, the Accessibility Committee and the Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Committee support DEI initiatives.

CSIS offers a wide-range of diversity and inclusion, GBA+, cultural competency and bias sensitivity training and advice. This work is informed by CSIS participation in the Bias Sensitivity, Diversity, and Identity in National Security (BSDI in NS) working group and GBA PLUS initiatives led by Public Safety.

CSIS has a dedicated proactive talent acquisition program which participates in recruitment fairs and briefings, including in diverse and marginalized communities, and at diversity and inclusion and disability inclusion conferences.  This team also organizes virtual panel discussions on Eventbrite to reach a wider audience of potential candidates.

Original NS-TAG Annex C Inclusions for CSIS

Engagement Activities

Communication Activities

Past Practices

Initiatives to Hire and Retain a Diverse Work Force

[i] 2020-21 Annual Report on the Operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, Canadian Heritage, page 79.

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