Roundtable on the National Security Framework Civil Society Evening – October 19, 2016

The Civil Society Expert Roundtable consultation took place on October 19, 2016 from 19:00 to 21:00 in the Valour Building located at 151 Sparks Street in Ottawa, Ontario.

Twenty people participated at the roundtable, with 16 in-person participants and 4 joining via video conference. The 20 participants represented 16 interested groups from across the country. The roundtable was co-hosted by The Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. The session was facilitated by Manon Abud from Hill and Knowlton Strategies.

The session began with opening remarks from Minister Goodale and Minister Wilson-Raybould. Minister Goodale discussed the goal of the consultation process and his desire to hear about what Canadians would like to see included in the reshaping of Canada’s national security framework. He communicated the two main objectives of the consultation to the group: to ensure that Canada’s national security framework is effective moving forward; and to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all Canadians.

Echoing Minister Goodale’s comments, Minister Wilson-Raybould focused on the role of the Department of Justice in supporting Public Safety Canada. The aim of her involvement is to help ensure that the safety and protections instituted by a national security framework are balanced with the rights and freedoms of Canadians. She stressed that she would lean on criminal code provisions.

Following the opening remarks from the Ministers, each participant was given an opportunity to present their main concerns and priorities regarding Canada’s national security framework. Once each participant presented their positions, there was period that allowed for open discussion regarding the following topics: Accountability, Preventing Radicalization to Violence, and Protecting Security and Rights.

The major themes of the participants’ presentations and subsequent discussion focused on the following:

First, many participants challenged the government’s stated goal of ‘balancing rights and freedoms with national security’, stressing that national security should not trump individual rights and privacy. Rather, they argued, protecting the rights and privacy of Canadians is a fundamental condition to achieving sustainable national security. Participants expressed concern with provisions governing the sharing of personal and private information between government agencies and the holding of such information under the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act (SCISA).

Second, while some of the participants supported CSIS’ threat reduction mandate, many raised concerns with respect to CSIS disruption activities and their potential impacts on the rights and freedoms of Canadians. These participants called for amendments to the CSIS Act to improve transparency and accountability. Some also emphasized that to the extent that terrorist activities are crimes; they can and should be addressed through Canada’s criminal system.

Third, the majority of participants supported Bill C-22, but suggested that the government’s proposed Committee of Parliamentarians could and should be enhanced in several ways: first, they felt that the committee should be accountable to Parliament; second, that the Committee needed a supporting ‘infrastructure’ of appropriate, knowledgeable and permanent resources; and third, that the work of the Committee needed to be complemented by an independent, non-partisan and expert oversight body that could take a ‘whole of government’ view of national security issues and activities. Many described this as a ‘Super SIRC’, that would have the powers and resources necessaries to provide robust and independent oversight across government, conduct investigations, and as necessary, provide support to the Parliamentary body. Some suggested that Canada look to the United Kingdom’s independent expert review body as a potential model.

Throughout the evening, other concerns and suggestions surfaced such as: compensation for those wrongfully convicted of terrorist activities; addressing the needs of victims of terrorism; establishing deep partnerships between governments and communities based on trust; protecting freedom of speech and expression for journalists and academics; the importance of fully considering the potential threats and opportunities created by technology, including but not limited to the issue of encryption; issues with the Passenger Protect Program; and the importance of counter-narratives and in diminishing anti-Islamic sentiments and radicalization.  Some participants also challenged the framing of issues and language in the Green Paper, cautioning that it perpetuates a ‘culture of fear’.

At the conclusion of the discussion segment, Minister Goodale thanked the attendees for participating and offering their very insightful comments. He emphasized that there is a large amount of material that needs to be considered and that the Departments of Justice and Public Safety together will reflect on all of the participant’s expert advice and thoughtful contributions to the discussion.

Minister Goodale also stressed that although much of the evening’s discussion took the form of “what was wrong with Bill C-51”, this limits the conversation. He suggested that rather than limiting the conversation, there is a need to look at the body of law that exists today and how it needs to be changed in order to reflect the kind of national security framework that Canadians want to have for the future.

Minister Wilson-Raybould also thanked participants for attending the roundtable and for their substantive submissions. She added that the Green Paper and Background Document were not meant to limit the conversation, but rather, to stimulate a far-reaching dialogue.  

The facilitator concluded the session by inviting participants to fill out the optional Feedback Form and to leave their notes is they wished.

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