All Government of Canada national security and intelligence activities now subject to independent expert review

News release

Ottawa, Ontario - July 17, 2019 - On July 12, Canada’s framework for national security accountability underwent a major transformation with the creation of the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) and the coming into force of the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency Act (NSIRA Act) alongside other parts of the recently passed Bill C-59.

The NSIRA Act closes gaps in the national security accountability framework first identified by Justice O’Connor in the 2006 Arar report, and subsequently by many others. Prior to the NSIRA, only specific agencies had independent expert review bodies, and these bodies could not collaborate or share classified information. The NSIRA, by contrast, is mandated to review all Government of Canada national security and intelligence activities in an integrated manner, without regard for the department or agency the activities fall under.

To fulfill its review mandate, the NSIRA is entitled to receive all information held by federal entities that the NSIRA deems relevant to its reviews, no matter how classified or sensitive. This includes information subject to a legal privilege. The sole exception is information classed as a Cabinet confidence.

The NSIRA will be led by up to seven members, eminent Canadians appointed by the Government in consultation with the opposition. The NSIRA will be supported by a secretariat of national security and legal experts.

The NSIRA will also hear public complaints regarding the activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), and – when closely related to national security – the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), as well as complaints regarding the Government of Canada security clearance process.

The NSIRA replaces the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which was limited to the review of CSIS. The NSIRA also replaces the former Office of the CSE Commissioner (OCSEC), which reviewed the activities of the CSE. In addition, the NSIRA assumes responsibility for reviewing the national security and intelligence activities of the RCMP from the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC).

The NSIRA’s first annual public report will be tabled in Parliament in 2020.

Quotes

“For thirty five years, the Security Intelligence Review Committee helped protect the rights and freedoms of Canadians by ensuring the democratic accountability of CSIS. Its successor, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, looks forward to scrutinizing the full range of Government of Canada national security and intelligence activities to ensure that they are lawful, reasonable and necessary.”
The Honourable Pierre Blais, P.C.
Member, National Security and Intelligence Review Agency

“Canada’s national security and intelligence agencies have been vested with extraordinary powers to help protect public safety and advance the national interest. Yet maintaining democratic accountability in the realm of national security, where secrecy is unavoidable, can be challenging. Independent institutions like the NSIRA play an important role in ensuring that parliamentarians and all Canadians remain appropriately informed of the important national security activities being carried out in their name.”
The Honourable L. Yves Fortier, P.C., C.C., O.Q., Q.C.
Member, National Security and Intelligence Review Agency

“With its unfettered access to sensitive information, the NSIRA will act as a bridge between the Government and civil society, able to scrutinize emerging issues where there are public doubts or concerns. Through its reports and its day-to-day interactions with officials, the NSIRA can also bring public concerns to the attention of national security actors and policy-makers.”
The Honourable Dr. Ian Holloway, P.C., C.D., Q.C.
Member, National Security and Intelligence Review Agency

“The NSIRA looks forward to working closely with the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. Our complementary mandates will bolster the accountability of Canada’s national security and intelligence agencies.”
The Honourable Marie-Lucie Morin, P.C., C.M.
Member, National Security and Intelligence Review Agency

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Contacts

For more information, please contact:

Christopher Martin
Senior Research Advisor
National Security and Intelligence Review Agency
613-907-4414
Communications@sirc-csars.gc.ca

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