Enhancing Accountability and Transparency

The results of the Government's consultation on national security demonstrated a demand from the public for increased accountability and more transparency on national security.

The Government is proposing several measures to meet this demand by:

  • strengthening accountability through the creation of a new, comprehensive national review body, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA)
  • enhancing oversight through the creation of an Intelligence Commissioner; and
  • increasing transparency through a commitment to sharing national security information with Canadians

Strengthening accountability through a comprehensive national review body: the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency‎ (NSIRA)

The proposed National Security and Intelligence Review Agency‎ (NSIRA) represents an historic change that would enable comprehensive and integrated scrutiny of all national security and intelligence activities across the Government of Canada.

The NSIRA would replace the current “siloed” approach to national security review by establishing a single, arms-length body with a government-wide mandate.

The NSIRA would replace the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) and the Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner (OCSEC) and would also take on the review of the RCMP's national security activities currently done by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC).

The existing review bodies often cannot share sensitive information or conduct joint reviews, limiting their ability to delve into important cross-cutting issues. A significant benefit of the proposed model is that the NSIRA would be able to review relevant activities across government.  This model recognizes the increasingly interconnected nature of the government's national security and intelligence activities.

The NSIRA would ensure that Canada's national security agencies are complying with the law and that their actions are reasonable and necessary. It would have full and independent authority to determine what government activities it would review. This would include the review of ongoing activities.

Findings and recommendations from NSIRA would be provided to relevant Ministers through classified reports. It would also produce an unclassified annual report to Parliament summarizing the findings and recommendations provided to Ministers.

This new entity would complement the important work of the proposed National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. Together, they would provide comprehensive scrutiny of Canada's national security and intelligence activities.

The NSIRA will be led by a committee of up to seven members, appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister in consultation with the leaders of the opposition parties.

Enhancing oversight through the creation of an intelligence commissioner (IC)

The Government of Canada proposes to create an Intelligence Commissioner (IC) to authorize certain intelligence and cyber security activities prior to their conduct.

The establishment of an IC would help to build public confidence that Canada's national security and intelligence community continue operating with respect for Canadian law and values.

The IC would have a mandate to oversee the authorization of certain activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and would be fully independent of government.

In regards to CSIS, the IC would:

  • review and approve the Minister's decisions regarding classes of activities that could be undertaken pursuant to the authorization scheme for acts or omissions that would otherwise constitute offences;
  • review and approve the Minister's decisions regarding classes of Canadian datasets that CSIS could collect (retention of such classes requires authorization from the Federal Court within 90 days); and
  • review and approve authorizations for the retention of foreign datasets and, in exigent circumstances, the querying of Canadian datasets.

In regards to CSE, the IC would:

  • review and assess ministerial authorizations permitting foreign intelligence and cyber security activities. The IC will review the ministerial authorizations to ensure they are reasonable, necessary, proportionate, and that appropriate privacy protections are in place.

Increasing transparency on national security

Through its consultation on national security, the Government also heard strong calls for increased transparency on national security.

The Government is putting in place new measures to meet this demand by:

  • Adopting a commitment across the Government of Canada that will help support Canadians in understanding what the Government does to protect national security, how these efforts are consistent with Canadian values and why the work is effective and important. All departments and agencies with national security responsibilities will be accountable to implement the principles of the commitment and report on progress;
  • Putting in place an advisory group on transparency. This group, which will be made up of civil rights advocates, experts in security and intelligence and open government, will help guide the implementation of the Government's commitment.
  • Providing Canadians with an easy means to access released information and track progress through the Government of Canada's website.
Illustration of change on national security transparency

Before

After

  • Ad-hoc, responsive approach to sharing information with Canadians on national security across the Government of Canada. 
  • Information was often released only through media requests, litigation cases or after a new policy was enacted.
  • A coordinated, proactive approach to sharing information with Canadians, enshrined in a Government-wide commitment to transparency on national security.
  • An advisory group on transparency to help guide implementation of the Government's commitments.
  • A web presence allows Canadians to track progress towards the Government's implementation and access released national security information.
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