Summary Report of the Meeting of the National Security Transparency Advisory Group (NS-TAG) August 22-23, 2019

Ottawa, Ontario

The first National Security Transparency Advisory Group (NS-TAG) meeting took place August 22-23, 2019 in Ottawa.

In addition to NS-TAG members, the meeting was attended by Public Safety Canada's (PS) Transparency Secretariat and several members of the interdepartmental national security transparency working group. Working group attendees represented the following departments and agencies:

NS-TAG member William Baker was unable to attend.

Key Takeaways

Meeting Highlights

Day 1

The meeting opened with a high-level overview of the NSTC by the NS-TAG government co-chair, Monik Beauregard, as well as introductions of the NS-TAG members, PS officials and members of the NSTC interdepartmental working group.

The first briefing session was dedicated to the National Security Transparency Commitment and related transparency initiatives. Discussion focused on creating an online source, or "one-stop shop", for publically accessible national security information that is interesting, useful and accessible to Canadians. NS-TAG members agreed that it would be beneficial for representatives of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) and the National Security Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) to attend a future NS-TAG meeting to discuss the alignment of the groups' priorities. There was also discussion on the importance of culture change within government to support transparency efforts.

PS Deputy Minister (DM) Gina Wilson attended as a guest speaker, and offered remarks on the importance of transparency in national security. DM Wilson noted that enhanced efforts to explain domestic national security and intelligence activities would help dispel myths and misinformation within the public regarding these activities.

The NS-TAG also heard from guest speakers Mélanie Robert, Executive Director of Open Government, and Rob Davidson, civil society co-chair of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Open Government. They emphasized the importance of public engagement in government decisions, both in person and online. They also provided some insight on the Multi-Stakeholder Forum's meeting cycle, performance indicators and reporting mechanisms, and how ongoing engagement and discussion is needed to sustain these types of advising bodies.

In the subsequent briefing session, there was discussion surrounding the expansion of the national security community in response to emerging threats. The group discussed the creation of NSIRA, which will have the capacity for interagency review and will improve oversight across the national security community. The NS-TAG was also briefed on PS' national security track at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit 2019, and discussed international national security transparency practices across the Five Eyes (Canada, U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand).

The day concluded with a briefing on An Act respecting national security matters (the National Security Act, 2017).There was substantial discussion on the technicalities and the legal ramifications of the Act, including amendments made, how departments and agencies are implicated, and how the Act enhances accountability and transparency.

Day 2

The second day began with a Q&A session by Tricia Geddes, Canadian Security Intelligence Services' (CSIS) Assistant Director for Policy and Strategic Partnerships, and Scott Millar, Communications Security Establishment's (CSE) Assistant Deputy Minister of Policy and Communications. They discussed the efforts their organizations are making to increase transparency in response to public interest, as well as their work in better addressing information gaps. There was discussion of the organizational culture of both CSE and CSIS, the role of the media in communicating issues of national security, the existing knowledge gap on issues of national security, and the public's perception and experience of Canada's national security activities.

The NS-TAG also received a presentation about the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security, which helped inform the discussion of the group's ToR. NS-TAG members agreed to consider public engagement and outreach activities for future meetings. The group also discussed media guidelines and other communications-related items. It was agreed that amendments to the ToR would be made to reflect points brought up during this discussion.

The group proceeded to the forward-looking agenda in a round-table discussion of items of interest for future meetings. These included diversity and inclusion in the national security and intelligence community, outreach to diverse Canadian groups and individuals by government departments and agencies, information and intelligence sharing domestically and internationally, and cyber-security and financial payment systems, among other areas. The NS-TAG requested more in-depth briefings and Q&A sessions on these issues and others as part of future meetings.

It was determined that the next meeting would again be held in Ottawa in order to afford better access to national security departments and agencies for briefing purposes.

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