Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, colleagues. Thank you for your invitation to appear before your committee. I am joined by Rennie Marcoux, executive director of the Secretariat of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, or NSICOP.
It's a privilege to be here with you today to discuss the 2018 annual report of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.
The committee's first annual report is the result of the work, the dedication and the commitment from my colleagues on the committee. It is intended to contribute to an informed debate among Canadians on the difficult challenges of providing security and intelligence organizations with the exceptional powers necessary to identify and counter threats to the nation while at the same time ensuring that their activities continue to respect and preserve our democratic rights.
NSICOP has the mandate to review the overall framework for national security and intelligence in Canada, including legislation, regulations, policy, administration and finances.
It may also examine any activity that is carried out by a department that relates to national security or intelligence.
Finally, it may review any matter relating to national security or intelligence that a minister refers to the committee.
Members of the committee are all cleared to a top secret level, swear an oath and are permanently bound to secrecy. Members also agree that the nature of the committee, multi-party, drawn from the House of Commons and the Senate, with a broad range of experience, bring a unique perspective to these important issues.
In order to conduct our work, we are entitled to have access to any information that is related to our mandate, but there are some exceptions, namely, cabinet confidences, the identity of confidential sources or protected witnesses, and ongoing law enforcement investigations that may lead to prosecutions.
The year 2018 was a year of learning for the committee. We spent many hours and meetings building our understanding of our mandate and of the organizations responsible for protecting Canada and Canadians. The committee was briefed by officials from across the security and intelligence community and visited all seven of the main departments and agencies. Numerous meetings were also held with the national security and intelligence adviser to the Prime Minister. NSICOP also decided to conduct a review of certain security allegations surrounding the Prime Minister's trip to India in February 2018.
Over the course of the calendar year, the committee met 54 times, with an average of four hours per meeting. Annex E of the report outlines the committee's extensive outreach and engagement activities with government officials, academics and civil liberties groups.
The annual report is a result of extensive oral and written briefings, more than 8,000 pages of printed materials, dozens of meetings between NSICOP analysts and government officials, in-depth research and analysis, and thoughtful and detailed deliberations among committee members.
The report is also unanimous. In total, the report makes 11 findings and seven recommendations to the government. The committee has been scrupulously careful to take a non-partisan approach to these issues. We hope that our findings and recommendations will strengthen the accountability and effectiveness of Canada's security and intelligence community.
The report before you contains five chapters, including the two substantive reviews conducted by the committee.
The first chapter explains the origins of NSICOP, its mandate and how it approaches its work, including what factors the committee takes into consideration when deciding what to review.
The second chapter provides an overview of the security and intelligence organizations in Canada, of the threats to Canada's security and how these organizations work together to keep Canada and Canadian safe and to promote Canadian interests.
Those two chapters are followed by the committee's two substantive reviews for 2018.
In chapter 3, the committee reviewed the way the government determines its intelligence priorities. Why is this important? There are three reasons.
First, this process is the fundamental means of providing direction to Canada's intelligence collectors and assessors, ensuring they focus on the government's, and the country's, highest priorities.
Second, this process is essential to ensure accountability in the intelligence community. What the intelligence community does is highly classified. This process gives the government regular insight into intelligence operations from a government-wide lens.
Third, this process helps the government to manage risk. When the government approves the intelligence priorities, it is accepting the risks of focusing on some targets and also the risk of not focusing on others.
The committee found that the process, from identifying priorities to translating them into practical guidance, to informing ministers and seeking their approval, does have a solid foundation. That said, any process can be improved.
In particular, the committee recommends that the Prime Minister's national security and intelligence advisor should take a stronger leadership role in the process in order to make sure that cabinet has the best information to make important decisions on where Canada should focus its intelligence activities and its resources.
Moving on, chapter 4 reviews the intelligence activities of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. The government's defence policy, “Strong, Secure, Engaged”, states that DND/CAF is “the only entity within the Government of Canada that employs the full spectrum of intelligence collection capabilities while providing multi-source analysis.”
We recognize that defence intelligence activities are critical to the safety of troops and the success of Canadian military activities, including those abroad, and they are expected to grow. When the government decides to deploy the Canadian Armed Forces, DND/CAF also has implicit authority to conduct defence intelligence activities. In both cases, the source of authority is what is known as the Crown prerogative. This is very different from how other intelligence organizations, notably CSE and CSIS, operate. Each of those organizations has clear statutory authority to conduct intelligence activities, and they are subject to regular, independent and external review.
This was a significant and complex review for the committee, with four findings and three recommendations.
Our first recommendation focuses on areas where DND/CAF could make changes to strengthen its existing internal governance structure over its intelligence activities and to strengthen the accountability of the minister.
The other two recommendations would require the government to amend or to consider enacting legislation. The committee has set out the reasons why it formed the view that regular independent review of DND/CAF intelligence activities will strengthen accountability over its operations.
We believe there is an opportunity for the government, with Bill C-59 still before the Senate, to put in place requirements for annual reporting on DND/CAF's national security or intelligence activities, as would be required for CSIS and CSE.
Second, the committee also believes that its review substantiates the need for the government to give very serious consideration to providing explicit legislative authority for the conduct of defence intelligence activities. Defence intelligence is critical to the operations of the Canadian Armed Forces and, like all intelligence activities, involves inherent risks.
DND/CAF officials expressed concerns to the committee about maintaining operational flexibility for the conduct of defence intelligence activities in support of military operations. The committee, therefore, thought it was important to present both the risks and the benefits of placing defence intelligence on a clear statutory footing.
Our recommendations are a reflection of the committee's analysis of these important issues.
We would be pleased to take your questions.