Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
269 Laurier Avenue West, 19th Floor
In recognition of your recent appointment, please accept my congratulations. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is dedicated to protecting Canada and Canadians from a wide range of threats, and supporting you in the exercise of your duties. I am writing to provide you with a high-level overview of current national security threats and how CSIS responds to them today, as well as what it requires to adapt for the future. I look forward to providing you with a detailed classified briefing regarding the range and complexity of national security threats facing Canada.
In its 37 year history, CSIS has seen tremendous technological change, adapted to major operational developments and evolving trends in the threat landscape, and pivoted to meet the changing expectations of the Government and the Canadian public. But never before has CSIS faces the same organizational pressures - impacting our operational activity, culture resources, employees and ultimately our mission - as we have seen over the past five years. We weathered significant legal developments that directly impacted operations. The first comprehensive legislative amendments in our history ushered in important new protections, with major new review and compliance requirements. And like the rest of the world, the pandemic has caused enormous disruption in the threats we investigate, the tradecraft we employ and the way we conduct all of our critical work.
CSIS plays a unique role in fulfilling the Government's fundamental responsibility to protect Canada's national security and the safety of Canadians. Since its establishment in 1984, CSIS has been mandated with investigating, analyzing and advising the Government on threats to Canada's national security. It also takes measures to reduce those threats. In addition, CSIS provides critical security screening for Government partners for immigration purposes and security clearances and assists in the collection of foreign intelligence.
More than ever before, intelligence is key to informing decision-making on a broad range of Government priorities, including economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic, research and innovation to maintain Canada's competitive edge, and social cohesion in a time of growing division. CSIS plays an important role in supporting decision-making across the Government of Canada and providing advice to inform actions to protect Canada's national security and national interest.
As Minister, you provide direction to the Service and have specific responsibilities for authorizations as outlined in the CSIS Act, including approval of warrant application to the Federal Court, arrangements with domestic and foreign partners, and CSIS collection of foreign intelligence pursuant to a request for assistance from the Minister of Foreign Affairs or National Defence. CSIS' collection and assessment activities are guided by the 2021-2023 Intelligence Priorities set by Cabinet, and further prescribed in Ministerial Direction. Although the threats we are mandated to investigate - espionage, sabotage, foreign-influenced activities, terrorism and subversion - remain the same as when CSIS was established, threat actors and their methods have changed drastically, as has the context and environment in which we operate, and the advice which we provide.
Today's threat environment is complex, diverse and global. Threats against Canada's security are driven by the malicious use of new technologies, geopolitical events, and the means and motivations of threat actors. The COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, has exacerbated certain trends and presented threat actors with new opportunities to conduct malicious activities. The constant evolution in the threat environment requires CSIS to adapt its operational posture and realign resources to address shifting priorities.
Espionage and foreign interference are at levels not seen since the Cold War. Today, threat actors engage in espionage activities not only to acquire government secrets, but also valuable intellectual property, cutting-edge proprietary technologies and innovative research for their own economic benefit and advancement. Ultimately, these threat activities undermine Canada's economic security and its long-term prosperity. While competition and state self-interest are nothing new to the global stage, the pandemic has accelerated activities from hostile state actors that threaten Canada's recovery. By subverting Canada's ability to capitalize on its innovations, espionage activities result in the long-term loss of jobs, diminished economic growth, and a less secure and prosperous Canada.
Foreign interference activities target democratic institutions and processes, covertly influence Canadian policy-making, seek to intimidate or silence Canadian communities, and corrode social cohesion through disinformation. These hostile actions threaten not only our democratic foundations and the safety of Canadians, but also the fabric of Canada’s multicultural society. Foreign interference ultimately undermines Canada’s sovereignty.
Cyber threats continue to pose a significant risk to our critical infrastructure, the private information of Canadians and our core institutions. State actors use cyber capabilities to conduct espionage and foreign interference, targeting sensitive Canadian data such as military and diplomatic secrets, proprietary research, and personal health and financial information. Non-state actors – including those that are sponsored by foreign states – also pose a growing threat as their activities increasingly inflict significant societal disruptions. Growing interconnectedness and emerging technologies offer cyber threat actors new ways to undermine Canada’s national security.
Violent extremism and terrorism remain a top threat to Canada’s public safety and national security. Over the last five years, CSIS has observed a rise in ideologically motivated violent extremism (IMVE), including with the recent tragic attack in London, Ontario. The IMVE threat is fast approaching parity with the threat from religiously motivated violent extremism (RMVE) in terms of investigative resources deployed domestically. Online hate represents a significant threat given the ease of proliferation of extremist material as well as the availability of technological tools that obscure the identities of users. Both online and in the real world, IMVE disproportionately targets equity-deserving groups in Canada. The pandemic has been seized upon by extremists, who are exploiting the situation to spread disinformation, amplify anti-authority narratives, and promote acts of violence. CSIS is actively investigating IMVE threats, and when appropriate, mitigating these threats through the use of threat reduction measures.
RMVE remains a concern, especially with the Taliban regaining control in Afghanistan and the continued prospect of returning extremist travellers. While aspects of the global RMVE threat were attenuated during the pandemic due to movement and travel restrictions, the gradual lifting of those restrictions may bring increased threat activities. Online radicalization and lone actors remain of significant concern domestically. CSIS plays a key role in the broader government response to global terrorism, alongside foreign intelligence partners and law enforcement.
The National Terrorism Threat Level, which is developed by the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre and that I approve as Director, is currently at medium. This means that extremist groups and individuals in Canada and abroad have both the intent and capability to carry out an act of violent extremism in Canada.
Operational Activities and Intelligence Advice
To respond to this complex threat landscape, CSIS is actively conducting national security investigations in Canada and abroad. At home, CSIS relies on its regional offices across the country to collect intelligence, undertake threat reduction measures, conduct outreach and cooperate with domestic partners like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canada Border Services Agency. CSIS also maintains a strategic presence abroad to liaise and cooperate with foreign partners and investigate global threats. In today’s fluid and globalized threat environment, which knows no borders, the ability to conduct investigations internationally, as well as partner with foreign allies, is critical to ensure that CSIS can provide the Government with timely and relevant intelligence.
Over the last 18 months, the pandemic has affected the way CSIS conducts operations both within our offices and in the field. Restrictions on movement significantly impacted routine intelligence collection activities, while CSIS’ unique security requirements made work from home challenging. Innovative solutions were deployed, outreach and engagement were prioritized and ultimately, the Service continued to provide valuable and timely intelligence to senior decision makers and deliver on our mandate to protect Canadians. The dedication and professionalism of CSIS employees through the most challenging of times is a constant source of pride although the toll on CSIS employees cannot be understated.
Just as the pandemic restrictions impacted daily life for all Canadians, threat actors were also forced to adapt and many advanced their activities in the online milieu. This required that CSIS also augment its investigative work in the online space to conduct investigations. This necessity highlighted both significant opportunities, such as investigations of IMVE and the use of online data to link threat actors, as well as the shortcomings of the CSIS Act that hamper the ability of the Service to deliver on its mandate in an increasingly digital world.
Based on the intelligence collected, CSIS provides timely and relevant advice to the Government to inform decision-making process on a range of issues, from the handling of Canadian Extremist Travellers and IMVE to foreign investments, research security and responses to cyber incidents. During the pandemic, non-traditional partners such as the Public Services and Procurement Canada-led vaccine task force, turned to CSIS for information. Intelligence can play a pivotal role in supporting the Government of Canada’s efforts to advance its policy priorities, ensure the security of its citizenry and protect national interests.
In addition to collecting intelligence and providing advice to the Government, CSIS has taken an increasingly public role during the pandemic with a national outreach campaign to raise awareness of espionage and foreign interference activities directed at the private sector. Targeting first industry, research institutions and academia involved in the life sciences sectors, CSIS’ efforts sought to help build resilience to threat activity. This work was expanded to reach other sectors like supply chains and emerging technologies.
CSIS has also been active in raising awareness of the foreign interference threats against the democratic process. In July 2021, CSIS published for the first time a public report on Foreign Interference Threats to Canada’s Democratic Process. It also engaged in extensive outreach with stakeholders to raise awareness of foreign interference activities targeting democratic processes.
Ongoing outreach is an area in which CSIS can continue to have an impact in mitigating the foreign interference threat. CSIS is committed to raising awareness about both its mandate, and the threats facing the public and private sector entities.
The Government has broad commitments to stimulate economic recovery; promote innovation and protect research; safeguard critical infrastructures; counter foreign interference; combat online harms; and foster social cohesion. CSIS will support these commitments by providing relevant and timely intelligence and advice to inform the Government on, for example, threats to our economic security and future prosperity, foreign interference activities targeting democratic institutions and communities, and extremist threats to Canada’s security and social cohesion. However, CSIS’ ability to meet the Government’s intelligence needs is increasingly restricted by authorities that have not kept pace with the threat environment and modern technologies.
Enacted in 1984 and never comprehensively reviewed, the CSIS Act has not adequately evolved to meet the challenges of today’s complex and global threat environment. Even with the significant amendments of the National Security Act, 2017, technological evolution, the relevance of bulk data, growing diversity and sophistication of threat activities, and additional legal decisions have further exposed the limitations of the CSIS Act in 2021. A comprehensive review of CSIS’ authorities is required to address gaps that challenge CSIS’ ability to meet the Government’s requirements for intelligence. Among the principal gaps are:
As demands for CSIS intelligence and advice increase, the CSIS Act limits the type of information the Service can disclose to non-federal government stakeholders. CSIS cannot provide classified information to targets of threat activities, such as private sector entities, academia, civil society groups, and provincial and municipal authorities. As a result, it is more difficult for these entities to mitigate and build resilience against these threats.
Technological developments are shining a spotlight on some of the CSIS Act limitations. Although the National Security Act, 2017 introduced a datasets regime, CSIS still faces significant challenges in using modern data analytics particularly when it comes to collecting, exploiting and using data to advance its investigations. CSIS’ ability to collect foreign intelligence, within Canada, has been depleted because the CSIS Act does not account for modern technology, thereby depriving the Government of information the Service was able to collect in the past. I will provide you, at your earliest convenience, with a classified brief on our foreign intelligence capabilities.
As more threat activities occur online, so too must CSIS investigations; this is particularly true for the IMVE threat. In such an environment, CSIS needs to be able to obtain basic subscriber information (BSI) in a timely fashion to identify the actors behind harmful online content. Currently, the warrant authorization regime in the CSIS Act does not distinguish between a warrant for less intrusive techniques (e.g. obtaining BSI) and one for more intrusive collection (e.g. intercepting communications). In a fast-paced online threat environment, the requirements for a full warrant cause delays in collecting BSI that can severely inhibit investigations and collection opportunities. The Service would benefit from tailored judicial requirements that protect privacy while adapting to the shift in technology.
Simply put, CSIS’ authorities have not kept pace with technology and the threat environment. As a result, the Service’s ability to effectively meet the Government’s intelligence needs, as well as Canadians’ expectations, is diminishing.
To ensure public understanding and support, the work to modernize CSIS’ authorities must be transparent. Canadians have a right to know why CSIS should share information with a wider range of stakeholders; why CSIS should collect, exploit and use data to advance its national security investigations; and why CSIS needs tailored warrant powers. A well-informed public discussion on what is needed for CSIS to protect Canada and Canadians in the 21st century will ensure continued trust by the public in CSIS.
While modernizing the CSIS Act is essential to give CSIS the tools required to operate in today’s environment, national security and privacy should not be viewed as a zero-sum game. Indeed, the Government can protect national security while enhancing Canadians’ privacy, including protecting Canadians’ personal data from threat actors that want to acquire and use it for their own, often nefarious, purposes.
CSIS is subject to a rigorous accountability regime. The 2019 Ministerial Direction for Accountability and the associated Cooperation Framework establish clear requirements to ensure that you and your officials are properly informed of CSIS’ operational activities. We recognize the importance of public confidence in the Service’s accountability to you, as Minister, and to Parliament.
The Service is also subject to review by the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. CSIS collaborates with these bodies and seeks to implement their recommendations to improve compliance and operational effectiveness. The Intelligence Commissioner reviews and approves certain elements related to the justification framework and the datasets regime.
In recent years, the Federal Court has issued decisions related to the Service’s discharge of its duty of candour. The Federal Court of Appeal is expected to publically release its decision on the matter soon. CSIS has acknowledged past shortcomings in this space and launched a comprehensive project to identify and address the root causes. This project has led to the adoption of numerous measures to ensure full compliance with the duty of candour and, at the same time, increase our operational effectiveness. CSIS has demonstrated 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 Protocol on Duty of Candour with the Department of Justice. The Court has provided positive feedback on the steps taken by CSIS. The Service recognizes the importance of full, frank and fair disclosure in its engagement with the Court.
Beyond review bodies and the Federal Court, it is essential for CSIS to maintain and strengthen public confidence. To that end, the Service is currently engaging the public more than at any point in its history. CSIS is conducting sustained outreach to diverse community groups across Canada to discuss CSIS’ role and activities, and better understand community concerns. CSIS’ public engagement has also manifested itself in an outreach campaign during the pandemic to inform about potential threat activities, and participation in public forums like the speech I gave last year at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation. Engaging in a transparent dialogue with Canadians about national security is essential to raise awareness of threat activities, build resilience against those activities, and establish trust.
The people working at CSIS are dedicated professionals. Everyday they work across Canada and around the world to protect Canada’s national security. However, our people face considerable challenges in delivering on CSIS’ mandate. The pandemic has exacerbated some longstanding issues related to morale, recruitment and retention. We know that a high number of employees are proud of the work they do; however, concerted effort of senior leadership is needed to address these issues and their underlying causes.
CSIS employees and their work environment are unique in the Public Service. They are subject to the strictest security requirements and most must perform their duties from secured facilities. Our employees are also sometimes required to handle disturbing and sensitive materials and situations. CSIS is dedicated to the well-being and mental health of our employees. They have access to a diverse range of services and support including a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program; on-site psychologists and mental health professionals; as well as a disability management program with on-site occupational health nurses and doctors. We are proud of the comprehensive employee support services we have in place to foster an inclusive, respectful, and healthy workplace.
All CSIS employees are bound by a Code of Conduct and the Service does not tolerate inappropriate behaviour. Our employees are always encouraged to report incidents of harassment, discrimination, or bullying without fear of reprisal and all of our managers are required to act promptly on any issues brought to their attention. In the case of founded harassment or discrimination, appropriate disciplinary and corrective measures are determined by a separate Discipline Committee.
As Canada’s security and intelligence service, CSIS must reflect the society it protects. CSIS has a People Strategy that sets our principles and desired outcomes to modernize our workplace. Diversity is not only part of our culture, it is a core business strategy that allows us to better understand communities and maintain trust that needs to exist between civil society and intelligence agencies. CSIS is updating our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy to ensure diversity and inclusion become integrated into every aspect of our work and culture. Following the successful establishment of Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) within the Service, CSIS is seeking to empower employees to play a more prominent role in decision-making to ensure the Service benefits from a wealth of diverse viewpoints and experiences.
The pandemic served as a stark warning that, in order to attract and retain people and keep up with the changes technology brings to the world, CSIS must adapt. In addition to advocating for modernized authorities, we have undertaken a major project on the future of work, tailored to the specific security requirements of a modern intelligence agency. The objective is to enable CSIS to respond to, and indeed anticipate, impending change impacting the way we conduct our business. This project considers the operational environment of the future, and focuses efforts along several lines of effort to ensure that the Service has the people, technology, facilities, equipment and authorities to fulfill its vital mandate. We are committed to promoting a transformative mindset that will enable us to deliver on our mandate through times of continuous change.
As a priority, CSIS is analysing how best to attract, equip and retain a talented and diverse workforce that is capable of working with emerging technology. To build an intelligence agency for the future requires that we address longstanding issues around employee compensation and adopt new, flexible work arrangements. Technical and real property investments will also be required to realize the vision for a modern CSIS workforce and workplace. We are embarking on a process of transformational change, which will not happen overnight, nor will it come without cost. But the change we envision is not only necessary, it will ultimately serve to equip the Government of Canada to defend against the threats of the future and protect our national institutions, communities, interests and long-term stability.
CSIS remains committed to fulfilling its mission to protect Canada and Canadians. I would like to invite you to visit the Service’s National Headquarters, at a time of your convenience, to allow us to brief you in a classified setting on CSIS’ operational priorities, investigations, tools and techniques, and answer any questions you may have. We look forward to a most productive relationship with you and your staff.
cc. Rob Stewart, Deputy Minister of Public Safety
Report a problem or mistake on this page
- Date modified: