Evidence of meeting #27 for Public Safety and National Security in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was russia.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Rob Stewart  Deputy Minister, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Jim Carr

Good morning, everyone. I call this meeting to order.

Welcome to meeting number 27 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. We will start by acknowledging that we are meeting on the traditional, unceded territory of the Algonquin people.

Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of November 25, 2021. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, March 3, 2022, the committee is resuming its study of the assessment of Canada's security posture in relation to Russia.

With us today are the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Emergency Preparedness, and Mr. Rob Stewart, deputy minister of the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Welcome to you both.

Minister, I now turn the microphone over to you for your opening statement.

June 2nd, 2022 / 11 a.m.

Scarborough Southwest Ontario

Liberal

Bill Blair LiberalMinister of Emergency Preparedness

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to also take the opportunity to thank the members of this committee for your kind invitation to have me appear before you today.

While this is not my first time before many of you, today marks my first committee appearance in my new role as president of the Queen's Privy Council and as the Minister of Emergency Preparedness.

Your study on Canada's security posture when it comes to Russia is an important one. I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to speak before you today and to discuss some of the ways in which Canada has been and continues to prepare itself to deal with any eventuality.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24 was a blow to the sovereignty of that nation and an immediate threat to all democracies around the world. The death toll of this conflict for the Ukrainian people is staggering. As of June 1, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has recorded over 4,000 civilians killed, including 267 children. Thousands more are recorded injured, and the UN acknowledges that the actual figures could very well be considerably higher.

We continue to join our allies in condemning Russia's unjustified and unprovoked actions. Our government, and particularly my cabinet colleagues, Minister Anand and Minister Joly, are working tirelessly to impose severe costs on Russia for their actions and to ensure that Ukraine has the tools and support it needs to continue the fight. Throughout this situation, we remain on the lookout for all potential Russian threat activity within Canada and affecting Canadians' interests around the world.

Canada is operating in an increasingly complex domestic and global threat environment. We are emerging from over two years of a global pandemic. The impact of climate change is accelerating, leading to more frequent and more severe natural disasters. As our national security agencies regularly caution, our country remains a target of foreign actors who seek to advance their interests to the detriment of Canadians and Canada.

Threats from countries like Russia can take on many forms. Espionage, cyber-attacks and various methods of foreign interference are only a few examples. Disinformation, which is a subject that I know is of great interest to this committee, is another. Federal national security agencies like CSIS, CSE and the RCMP continue to play a key role in deterring and dismantling many of these threats before they can cause harm to Canadians. I understand that Minister Mendicino has also been invited to appear before you on this study. I fully expect he'll be able to go into greater detail about the work of the agencies under his purview.

As the Minister of Emergency Preparedness, part of my responsibility is not only to prepare for future emergencies but to look at where we can proactively mitigate risks. In this country, we have adopted an “all hazards” approach to this work. If disaster does strike and threaten the safety of Canadians, one of the responsibilities of my office is to play a coordinating and convening role to support the Prime Minister and the cabinet through our immediate response.

In times of crisis, Canadians expect their governments to work together efficiently, expeditiously and effectively in order to ensure their safety and to address the situation at hand. One of the key ways in which the federal government coordinates during an emergency is through the federal emergency response plan, which I'll refer to hereafter as FERP. The federal government turns to the FERP when an emergency is so significant that it requires an integrated federal response. The FERP is intended to cover hazards of all kinds, including both domestic and international emergencies.

The FERP was last updated in 2011. As our threat environment continues to evolve, we must continually assess our response plans to ensure they remain relevant and effective. To that end, Mr. Chair, I've been given a mandate by the Prime Minister to look at the renewal of the federal emergency response plan.

The quick and accurate flow of information is also critical in an emergency. That is why I would also like to take an opportunity to recognize the important work of the government operations centre. In any active situation, the GOC's public servants play an essential role in monitoring, keeping all implicated partners informed and providing assistance in coordinating the response. It is a 24-7 responsibility. I take the opportunity to commend them for their extraordinary work, particularly over the past two years, when we've seen enormous requirements and demands upon them through the pandemic and through natural events such as the floods in British Columbia, the wildfires experienced right across this country, and many other similarly challenging events.

As we speak, Russian forces remain within Ukraine's borders. The harm they have already caused—the destruction of cities and the widespread loss of life—is something they must be held accountable for.

As a government, we remain committed to ensuring the safety of all Canadians. We will continue to work closely with our partners on mitigating risk, building resiliency and ensuring we are ready if and when an emergency occurs.

Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to provide my opening remarks. I look forward to the committee's questions.

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Jim Carr

Thank you, Minister. You won't have long to wait, because those questions begin right now.

The first slot goes to Mr. Lloyd.

Sir, you have six minutes, whenever you want to begin.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister and your official, for coming out today.

You certainly haven't had any shortage of natural disasters to deal with since you took on your role, Minister. It feels like your role in emergency preparedness is overwhelmingly or almost entirely focused on these very serious natural disasters. However, we know from this committee that Canada is not immune to emergencies related to foreign espionage, specifically cyber-attacks. We've seen that Russia is particularly adept, but there are other countries as well.

You didn't mention anything about cyber-attacks. I know the FERP hasn't been updated since 2011. You said there is an update coming.

What are we going to do about the threat to our cybersecurity? What are you doing as in your role as minister?

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Thank you very much. Mr. Lloyd. It's a very important question.

I want to assure you that the whole of government is seized of our responsibility. The response is primarily led within our government by the Communications Security Establishment, the CSE, which is under the Minister of National Defence. It also involves the important work of other national security intelligence agencies, such as CSIS, and any criminal investigation arising is the responsibility of our federal policing service, the RCMP.

I will tell you that Canada and its allies have attributed malicious cyber-activity to Russia in the past, including in 2018 for the development of what was called the NotPetya malware, which was used to indiscriminately attack critical financial, energy, government and infrastructure sectors around the world. In addition, in 2021, you may recall that Canada joined its allies in attributing SolarWinds compromises to Russian state-sponsored actors, involving malware being installed in an attempt to steal data and cause costly mitigation activities.

In Canada, we are very fortunate to have laid an important foundation in the national cybersecurity strategy, which is intended to help protect Canadians. This has already lead to the establishment of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, which is a single, authoritative source for expert technical advice and support for Canada and Canadians. The centre provides public advisories and—

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

Thank you for that.

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

There's a great deal more information, Mr. Lloyd. I'll happily go into it with you if you have time.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

Thank you. We have a short time.

You noted that you've attributed the SolarWinds attack in 2021 and a previous cyber-attack in 2018 to Russia. You talked about disinformation.

Has your government identified disinformation in the 2021 federal election as being from foreign sources?

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

I can advise you—I checked in anticipation of your question—that I have not received any information that Russia was involved in any effort at foreign interference in the last federal election.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

I understand that, but if Russia sees that one country can influence our elections, they might be emboldened to try to do that themselves.

Has your government identified any foreign interference in the 2021 federal election?

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

I can tell you that our agencies were very active. It was during the period of the caretaker regime, on which perhaps the deputy minister could provide more information, but they were very alert and vigilant with respect to foreign interference in our last election.

I have not received directly any information that would provide evidence of—

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

Are you personally aware, even anecdotally, of any foreign interference in the 2021 federal election?

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

I think we've all heard anecdotes and various opinions laid, but I have not directly received any information from our intelligence services that provided evidence of that foreign interference. Perhaps the deputy minister—

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

Deputy Minister, is that something that you guys are pursuing? Are you investigating the potential for foreign interference in the 2021 federal election?

11:10 a.m.

Rob Stewart Deputy Minister, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Absolutely. We had the security in elections task force and a cabinet-established panel of five deputy ministers who would be in receipt of that information.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

When can Canadians expect a report on that, if any?

11:10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Rob Stewart

The panel was stood up to monitor the election and to make sure there was no threat to the overall integrity of the election, and that was—

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

Did it conclude that there was no threat to the election?

11:10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Rob Stewart

There was no threat to the overall integrity of the election.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

What about in individual ridings? Did they determine that there was any impact on individual ridings?

11:10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Rob Stewart

No. We did not adjudicate individual ridings.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

You are saying today that your intelligence has said that there was no impact on individual ridings of foreign interference in the 2021 election?

11:10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Rob Stewart

I am not saying that.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

You said you couldn't say that there was an impact on any ridings.

11:10 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Rob Stewart

There was no threat to the overall integrity of the election. There were, as you would expect, activities on social media that would constitute disinformation and attempts by various parties to influence votes in various—.