Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Honourable members of the committee, thank you very much for the invitation to appear again today at this committee.
It's a great pleasure to speak with you about the 2020 annual report of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, or NSICOP.
Joining me today is Sean Jorgensen. Mr. Jorgensen is the director of operations for the committee's secretariat and is here to assist with answering questions and providing technical information.
Colleagues, since 2017, NSICOP has conducted seven reviews, which were included in three annual reports and two special reports. We are currently conducting two new reviews, one on the security and intelligence activities of Global Affairs Canada and another on cyber defence, and we've initiated yet a third on the RCMP's federal policing mandate.
This 2020 annual report is the only consolidated overview of national security threats to Canada.
I would like to emphasize that NSICOP reports are unanimous and nonpartisan. We prepare and finalize reports through consensus. All members agree on final content, assessments and recommendations.
Let me now turn to the Jim Judd report, completed pursuant to the critical election incident public protocol.
As the committee documented in its 2019 review of foreign interference, a number of states tried to interfere in Canada's electoral processes. They used a number of methods, including covertly trying to influence, for example, riding nominations or trying to promote one candidate or undermine another. It may involve illegal campaign contributions and efforts that seek leverage over officials to apply pressure.
This happens to all parties, across all orders of government. Officials may be wittingly or unwittingly subject to foreign interference activities. In the cyber realm, it could involve foreign efforts to amplify social divisions, stoke hatred online or sharpen partisan differences.
That latter point is important. Foreign states try to use partisan groups, even political parties, to pursue their own agendas.
As a result, NSICOP supported Mr. Judd's recommendations to re-establish the critical election incident public protocol well in advance of the next federal election, and to extend the protocol's mandate to the pre-writ period.
NSICOP also believes that the government should consider four other issues.
Number one, ensure that the mandate of the protocol includes all forms of foreign interference.
Number two, consider including prominent Canadians as members of the panel. If a foreign state is trying to manipulate partisan groups, it may be more effective for a prominent, respected Canadian to alert the public about what's happening.
Number three, absolutely ensure that all political parties understand the purpose of the protocol and the process for raising a potential issue.
Number four, consider how the panel would actually inform Canadians about an incident of foreign interference. This is important. Foreign states try to stoke partisan differences, and we will want to be careful about publicizing such efforts and attributing behaviour to particular countries.
I will now turn, Mr. Chair, to the annual report's overview of five national security threats to Canada: terrorism, espionage and foreign interference, cyber-threats, organized crime, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
I will focus on the first three as they have changed the most since 2018 when NSICOP first addressed these threats.
First is terrorism.
The defeat of Daesh in Syria and Iraq in 2019 was a significant milestone in global efforts to counter Salafi-Jihadist terrorism. However, it created other problems. We're wondering what to do with Canadians who had travelled to the area to support terrorist groups. As NSICOP knows well, those individuals may continue to pose a threat to Canada and its allies.
At the same time, we've seen the growth of other ideologically motivated violent extremists. These include individuals and groups that embrace xenophobic violence, anti-authority violence and gender-driven violence.
While the restrictions imposed as part of the COVID lockdown, such as limitations on travel, have disrupted terrorism facilitation efforts, the pandemic and the concurrent anti-racism protests have increased anti-government rhetoric connected to ideologically motivated violent extremism.
Regarding espionage and foreign interference, I should be clear that espionage and foreign interference are quite distinct. Espionage involves the theft of information. Foreign interference involves the use of clandestine means or threats to promote a certain position or objective. However, the security and intelligence community usually treat them as a single threat because the perpetrators, foreign states, often pursue them in tandem.
In 2019, the committee found that foreign interference posed a significant threat to the security of Canada, and that continues today.
The most significant change has been to the threat posed by espionage. Foreign states are increasingly targeting Canada's science and technology sectors.
The pandemic created opportunities for foreign states, including Russia and China, to target Canada's health sector, most notably in the area of vaccine development.
Regarding malicious cyber-activities, there are a wide array of cyber-threats facing Canada. In terms of sophisticated, state-sponsored threats, Russia and China remain the most significant.
These countries continue to target government and non-government systems, including those that provide critical infrastructure within Canada, and more recently those involved in vaccine developments.
We've also seen state actors conduct online disinformation campaigns in Canada and among our allies. Those same actors also use sophisticated methods to target, harass or threaten dissidents within Canada.
Mr. Chair, in conclusion, threats to the security of Canada are fluid and they are changing. These are all things that we, parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, should continue to pay attention to and seek ways to address through our hearings, our work on legislation and our engagement with Canadians.
I'd be happy to take questions, Mr. Chair, through you to the committee members, reminding committee members that members of NSICOP have waived their parliamentary privilege, so of course I will have to be circumspect in answering questions with any detail that might take me into classified information territory.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.