Overview Of Complaints Process Before NSIRA

The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA or the Review Agency) has the legislative mandate to investigate complaints concerning the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS or the Service) and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) made by both individuals and groups, referrals made to the Review Agency under the RCMP Act by the CRCC and complaints relating to the denial or revocation of a security clearance. Before describing the types of complaints which NSIRA may investigate, it is important to provide a general overview of the complaints process.

NSIRA may receive inquiries regarding complaint cases either in writing or by telephone. NSIRA’s Registrar responds to such inquiries in a timely manner and provides procedural information to the prospective complainant regarding the complaints process and how the complaint may be deemed received by the Review Agency.

Complaints must be made in writing using the required form and enclosing the relevant documents pertaining to the complaint. It is helpful to the Review Agency if you can provide as much information as possible regarding the complaint, including dates, places and the names of any persons involved. Once a written complaint conforms to the Rules of Procedure, NSIRA conducts an initial review that includes any and all information that might be in the possession of CSIS, CSE, RCMP or the Deputy Head responsible (under section 18 complaints). NSIRA will acknowledge receipt of the complaint and inform you of the next step regarding the complaint and follow-up when necessary.

Where appropriate, complaints are investigated through a quasi-judicial hearing presided over by a Member of the Review Agency assisted by staff. In exercising its statutory requirements with respect to jurisdiction regarding complaints, the Review Agency has all of the powers of a superior court. A complainant has the right to be represented by counsel and to make representations at the hearing. Pre-hearing conferences may be conducted with all parties to agree on preliminary procedural matters, such as the allegations to be investigated, the identity and number of witnesses to be called and the production of documents in advance of a hearing. Provided that no issues of national security are raised, pre-hearing conferences can be conducted by telephone.

The hearing itself may occur in stages. Section 25 of the NSIRA Act provides that NSIRA hearings are to be conducted “in private” and no one is entitled as of right to be present. During the hearings, the Review Agency’s legal counsel provides legal advice to Members on procedural and substantive matters and will also cross-examine witnesses when, for national security reasons, evidence must be heard in camera, ex parte. While you have the right to make submissions to the Review Agency, you may not be able to be present at a particular stage of the hearing when other witnesses give evidence in order to protect information, the disclosure of which could harm national security. This is known as an ex parte hearing. In the case of an ex parte hearing, NSIRA’s legal counsel will cross-examine witnesses on your behalf and may provide you with a summary of the information presented in your absence.

NSIRA and CSIS, CSE, RCMP, or as the case may be, have adopted the principle of continuing disclosure, as provided for in both the Federal Court Rules and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s Rules. This allows new documents to be introduced as evidence, at any time before a decision is rendered. It should also be noted that due to the need to safeguard highly sensitive information, no cell phones or personal communications devices are allowed in the hearing rooms, and parties wishing to use laptop computers to take notes of the proceedings, can only use equipment provided by NSIRA.

Following a hearing, the Review Agency will set out its findings and any recommendations in a report regarding its determination on whether CSIS, CSE, the RCMP, or the Deputy Head of the department or agency concerned (under Section 18 complaints), acted appropriately. The complainant is advised in writing of this finding, once any information with national security implications is redacted. If the Review Agency identifies issues of concern, it sends a report which includes findings and recommendations to both the Minister and the Director of CSIS, the Chief of CSE, the Commissioner of RCMP or the Deputy Head of the department or agency concerned (under Section 18 complaints), as the case may be. Summaries of these reports, edited to protect national security and the privacy of complainants, are also included in NSIRA's Annual Report to Parliament.

It should be noted that not all complaint cases result in a formal hearing or written report. In some cases, the complainant may not have complied with the requirements of the NSIRA Act, for example, by first writing a letter of complaint to the Director of the CSIS, or the Chief of CSE. Others may not be within the Review Agency’s jurisdiction in which case the complainant is so advised. There are other complaint cases that may be addressed by administrative action, or the complainant may be re-directed to another government organization. And in other cases, the complainant may decide to withdraw his/her complaint, resulting in the file being closed.

Service Standards

Program Activity Expected Results : Parties before NSIRA receive a fair, efficient and timely resolution of their complaint.

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