Good morning, Madam Chair and members of the committee.
My name is Cherie Henderson and I am the assistant director of requirements for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. I am joined today by my colleague, Newton Shortliffe, the assistant director of collection. I would like to thank you for the invitation to speak to you today and to respond to your questions.
I would like to begin by speaking briefly about the mandate of the service, to help situate the activities of CSIS at home and abroad. All our activities are grounded in the CSIS Act, which clearly articulates our mandate and authorities.
First and foremost we investigate threats to the security of Canada. Our act defines the threats we are authorized to investigate: espionage and sabotage, foreign interference, terrorism and extremism, and subversion.
We provide advice to the Government of Canada on these threats, including through the production of intelligence assessments and reports. CSIS may also take measures to reduce threats to the security of Canada.
Lastly, at the request of the Minister of Foreign Affairs or the Minister of National Defence and with the consent of the Minister of Public Safety, CSIS may collect foreign intelligence within Canada in relation to the intentions, capabilities or activities of a foreign state.
Importantly, CSIS is specifically prohibited from investigating lawful advocacy, protest or dissent, except when it is carried on in conjunction with activities that constitute a threat to the security of Canada. We are also bound by and uphold the charter rights of all Canadians.
As indicated in our 2021 public report, which I invite you to read online, the key national security threats facing Canada—foreign interference, espionage, malicious cyber-activity and violent extremism—are all accelerating and evolving.
We continue to see uncertainty regarding the global balance of influence, with shifting power structures posing new and complex challenges to the international rules-based order. These include the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and the Russian Federation's invasion of Ukraine in February of this year.
Here at home, foreign interference poses one of the most important strategic threats to Canada's national security, targeting Canada's sovereignty and democratic institutions. Last year CSIS released a report to the public on foreign interference threats to Canada's democratic process. In our report we advised Canadians that foreign states and their proxies target politicians, political parties and electoral processes in order to covertly influence Canadian public policy and public opinion, and to undermine our democracy.
We are also increasingly seeing states leverage media to spread disinformation or run influence campaigns designed to confuse or divide public opinion, interfering in healthy public debate and political discourse.
Additionally, here and around the world, the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the unpredictability of the current threat environment and in some cases exacerbated the threats.
One of those is most certainly the threat from ideologically motivated violent extremism, or IMVE, which is fuelled by extreme views around race, gender and authority. It is a threat that thrives on division and festers in the online space. We continue to see an increase in IMVE attacks in Canada and around the world. Lone actors remain the primary IMVE threat, as demonstrated by the tragic June 2021 attack in London, Ontario.
As our director told the Special Joint Committee on the Declaration of Emergency this past May, in the case of the “freedom convoy”, CSIS was concerned with the threat of IMVE, and specifically the potential for serious acts of violence.
The combination of major disruptive events like the pandemic, the ever-increasing influence of social media and the spread of conspiracy theories has created an environment ripe for exploitation by influencers and extremists. This environment has the potential to inspire individuals to commit acts of violence.
In the lead-up to the “freedom convoy”, CSIS closely monitored known IMVE threat actors to assess any threat of serious acts of violence. This operational posture was informed by context. For one, CSIS had observed a rise in anti-authority violent rhetoric, particularly as it related to public health measures. CSIS was also aware of the opportunities that large gatherings and protests could offer IMVE actors to carry out acts of violence and recruit like-minded individuals.