Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I would like to thank you for inviting Global Affairs Canada to speak to you about the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act. I’m the director general of counter-terrorism, crime and intelligence. Mr. Chair, you have just introduced my colleagues.
I will provide a bit of context to help situate the department's perspective on this act. As you are very aware, Canada is facing a wide range of threats to its national and international security.
We are co-operating closely with the many like-minded partners internationally to address the threat posed by terrorists and foreign fighters and to control the export of materials related to the manufacture of chemical weapons and other kinds of weapons of mass destruction. All of these issues are transnational in nature.
The department manages Canada's membership in bilateral or multilateral defence and security organizations that deal with traditional threats to security, as well as non-traditional threats such as threats to cybersecurity and space security.
The department is charged with the maintenance of an international platform with which to perform its functions, namely our network of missions abroad. Global Affairs Canada must therefore continually assess threats to the security of missions abroad, provide appropriate protection, and manage any residual risks to life and property, including diplomatic personnel and assets abroad. Global Affairs Canada provides travel advice and advisories to Canadians, as well as notifications to registered Canadians about safety and security conditions abroad, so they can make their own informed decisions regarding foreign travel.
Our international efforts are complemented by our work with partners within the government to advance Canada's national and international security objectives. A coordinated whole-of-government approach is necessary in addressing international issues like terrorism and foreign fighters. In this respect, the ability to share relevant information is key.
The department already had an established process to facilitate the appropriate sharing of information when issues of national security were at stake. Processes and caveats are in place to ensure that only information that is relevant, reliable, and accurate is shared. The requests must also be compliant with Canada's privacy laws or framework, including the charter and Privacy Act.
Prior to the enactment of the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, or SCISA as we call it, the information was typically shared under the provisions of paragraph 8(2)(e), when pursuant to a request, or subparagraph 8(2)(m)(i), when proactively shared, of the Privacy Act.
Officials are further guided by the findings of past commissions of inquiry, in particular the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar.
SCISA was designed to help the government improve how it deals internally with national security issues, by improving national security information sharing domestically. SCISA aims to ensure that information relevant to national security is shared both effectively and responsibly.
SCISA provides an authority for other departments and agencies to share with our department any information that might bear on the safety of our staff or the security of our missions abroad. SCISA also provides other departments and agencies with a clear authority to request from Global Affairs Canada information relevant to national security or for Global Affairs Canada to proactively share such information.
A number of steps have been taken to ensure that the department is appropriately implementing the new legislation, and that officials understand its impact and limitations.
First, the Minister of Foreign Affairs gave three divisions within the department the authority to receive national security-related information pursuant to SCISA. These areas are international security and intelligence; security and legal; and trade, specifically the international business development and chief trade commissioner in addition to trade agreements and negotiations.
Second, a letter explaining SCISA was sent to all Canada’s heads of missions abroad, asking that they sensitize their staff to the importance of timely and appropriate information sharing to keep Canada and Canadians safe. The letter was jointly signed by the deputy ministers of Foreign Affairs, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The letter explained that SCISA doesn't create an obligation to disclose and that this authority needs to be balanced against other statutory obligations, including privacy rights. It directed that, to ensure a systematic approach, requests for information to be shared under SCISA should be referred back to headquarters for decision.
With respect to proactive disclosures, the letter confirmed that information available at mission that could be relevant to Canada's security or to other federal institutions' mandates should be sent without delay to headquarters, where officials would determine whether, how, and with whom the information will be disclosed. It emphasized that for urgent cases, headquarters will respond quickly, including outside of normal business hours.
An exception is made for exigent circumstances where there is an imminent threat to life or a threat of serious bodily harm. In those instances, the good judgment of all heads of mission is relied upon, wherever they may be, to share information directly and immediately with the relevant counterparts, and then to report to headquarters to advise of any such disclosures at the first available opportunity.
The third implementation step taken was to develop an information sharing agreement between the consular operations bureau and CSIS. This agreement lays out the parameters within which the department will share consular information with CSIS under SCISA, including practical modalities. We are also seeking to develop a similar agreement with the RCMP based on that model.
Lastly, the department has been taking steps to ensure wider understanding and better use of SCISA. For example, in 2015, the director general for consular policy held a number of teleconferences, open to all heads of missions across the Global Affairs missions network, to discuss SCISA and other privacy and information sharing considerations in the consular context.
Now in terms of practice, since SCISA came into force, most of the department's sharing of consular-related information with national security agencies is done under SCISA rather than pre-existing authorities. In practical terms, there are two types of disclosure that are taking place.
The first type of disclosure is a result of a request from a national security agency. In these situations, the national security agency will send in a request in writing. These requests must provide sufficient detail to indicate a clear link to the agency's national security mandate. The requests also indicate the type of information that the agency is seeking. If the division targeted by the request, which is normally consular operations, determines that they have relevant information, they will gather the relevant information and seek legal advice regarding compliance with SCISA and Canada's privacy laws. Officials then exercise their discretion on whether or not to share the information.
The second type of disclosure is proactive disclosure. These arise when department officials—again typically with consular operations—collect information that they believe is relevant to the national security mandate of a Canadian department or agency. The same process for requests is followed as for proactive disclosures.
The decision to share is always taken at headquarters. Although we have left open the possibility of sharing directly at a mission where there is imminent risk to life or bodily harm, in practice this has not happened. The reason for the headquarter's decision is, first, to ensure that individuals with sufficient experience and level are ultimately making the decision following our established process; second, to ensure consistency in the interpretation and use of SCISA to disclose the information, including confirming that the threshold for disclosure has been met; and finally, to ensure documentation and tracking of disclosures to meet reporting and accountability requirements.
As you are likely aware, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner commenced an investigation of SCISA under section 37 of the Privacy Act last fall. Global Affairs has met with the OPC and has provided information on the number and nature of the disclosures we made under the act during the first year it has come into effect.
It is also worth noting that SCISA amended the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act to permit Global Affairs Canada to share information pertaining to the production, processing, consumption, import, and export of certain chemicals and related facilities where appropriate. Before SCISA came into force, we were prohibited from sharing this information. This was an important change for the department.
To conclude, as I mentioned before, SCISA does not alter the department's existing authorities to collect national security information. However, before it came into force, we anticipated that it would create new possibilities for sharing information that is relevant to national security. I would say that SCISA provided an opportunity to refresh the discussion on how this type of information is shared. Also, practically speaking, it has created a context and a tool, both of which have focused efforts on ensuring that national security information is flowing appropriately yet responsibly.
Mr. Chair, that brings my remarks to an end. Some of your questions may require a detailed answer, for which I may not be the best person to answer, and therefore we have experts from different parts of the organization to respond.
Thank you very much.