Summary of the Special Meeting of the National Security Transparency Advisory Group (NS-TAG) December 14, 2020

Held via Videoconference

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This virtual special meeting of the NS-TAG took place on December 14, 2020 and welcomed David Vigneault, Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and Tricia Geddes, Deputy Director of Policy and Strategic Partnerships at CSIS.

Director Vigneault and Deputy Director Geddes’ remarks and responses to questions covered a number of topics including: community engagement, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, new terminology for violent extremism, datasets, and review and accountability.

Introductory Remarks by Director Vigneault and Deputy Director Geddes

The Director explained that the confidence of Canadians in CSIS’ national security efforts is fundamental to the organization’s legitimacy, operational effectiveness and institutional credibility. He reiterated the commitment CSIS has made to being more transparent about the threats Canada is facing, and how CSIS conducts its work, including by continuing to directly engage communities.

While acknowledging that CSIS has faced scrutiny from the Federal Court, particularly regarding its duty of candour, he stated that the organization is actively working and cooperating closely with its review bodies to respond to these concerns and build a stronger culture of compliance.

He advised that CSIS is also undergoing a period of internal transformation which is underpinned by an emphasis on CSIS employees, as they are the organization’s most valuable resource. Director Vigneault stated that ensuring CSIS is an inclusive, diverse and respectful workplace is essential in order for CSIS to fulfill its mandate and to maintain the standard of excellence that Canadians expect of their intelligence service.

Deputy Director Geddes highlighted CSIS’ efforts for transparent communication with Canadians through the annual CSIS Public Report, changes in terminology around violent extremism, and through academic and stakeholder outreach. She reiterated that CSIS is working to better understand what Canadians want to know more about when it comes to national security issues, including information about national security institutions themselves.

Deputy Director Geddes highlighted that CSIS is engaging with various communities through traditional methods such as the Cross-Cultural Round Table on National Security, but she also noted how CSIS would like to go further and augment engagement with marginalized communities, and anyone who wants to be heard.

She noted that it is critical for CSIS to have more diverse voices from across the spectrum and from across the country, that are able to contribute to public discussions on national security and transparency.

Both Special Guests spoke to how, given the nature of security and intelligence agencies, there are inherent challenges related to transparency however, CSIS is making strides to be better.

Director Vigneault concluded by stating that “today’s engagement for us is so important because we want to hear from you. You know, how what we’re trying to do is perceived, how, based on your advice and your thoughts, we can do better because at the end of the day, when a bomb goes off, when communities are being manipulated and harassed by foreign powers, when a democratic process is being undermined by foreign powers, we all lose at that. And that’s why we all need to have an intelligence service that is effective, accountable, and that represents the values of Canadians. And hopefully, through the work you’re doing, and our engagement with you, we’ll be able to get to a better place.”

Key Takeaways of the Questions and Answers Session

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