A scathing report released by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) on Global Affairs Canada (GAC) led by Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly details some harsh realities regarding the way intelligence is handled within the department responsible for overseeing Canada’s foreign affairs: ‘The internal governance of the Department’s national security and intelligence activities is inconsistent, and in some areas completely absent.’
NSICOP was formed in 2017 under the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians Act. The top secret committee has a mandate under the Act to review: the legislative, regulatory, policy, administrative and financial framework for national security and intelligence; any activity carried out by a department that relates to national security or intelligence, unless the activity is an ongoing operation and the appropriate Minister determines that the review would be injurious to national security; and any matter relating to national security or intelligence that a minister of the Crown refers to the Committee.
Its assessment of GAC, included in its latest annual 34-page report, describes what appears to be a rudderless department severely lacking in internal governance regarding foreign intelligence activities, creating an "important gap in ministerial accountability."
Findings include that GAC, which “plays an advisory and facilitator role in relation to certain CSIS and CSE operational activities,” lacks the framework and has no requirements to “inform its minister about these (intelligence) activities.”
Other points show the NSICOP Committee was concerned by the “near total absence of governance and formalized reporting to the minister regarding GAC’s facilitator role, and that “the Committee was concerned by the absence of ministerial direction for these activities.”
While GAC is not per se responsible for collecting intelligence on foreign activities, it assists and collaborates with other agencies in operations. It has bilateral cooperative arrangements with CSIS, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), and the Department of National Defence (DND), making a lack of oversight an area of particular concern.
"For its international security programs, the department has strong governance mechanisms, including detailed policies, procedures and oversight committee structures," it states, but for “its most sensitive intelligence activities, the opposite is true: the department lacks policies, procedures or guidance documents, including for its role in requesting the collection of foreign intelligence within Canada or providing foreign policy risk assessments for CSIS and CSE activities."
The redacted report made several recommendations and was released amidst growing concerns about foreign interference activities and a lack of cohesiveness and accountability amongst various government departments and organizations regarding how intelligence is shared and disseminated. One recommendation is that “the Minister of Foreign Affairs provide written direction to the Department on its national security and intelligence activities.”
NSICOP recently faced criticism by the MacDonald Laurier Institute in an article titled “A committee for concealment: Why NSICOP is ill-suited to investigate Beijing’s electoral interference.” The think tank directly aimed at NSICOP’s role in advising Justin Trudeau’s “Special Rapporteur” on foreign interference, David Johnston.
“The problem with this arrangement (NSICOP advising Johnston),” senior MLI fellow Ryan Alford explains, “is that NSICOP is not a parliamentary committee with full legislative prerogatives. As a “committee of parliamentarians,” it is actually located within and largely subject to the control of the executive, which is to say Justin Trudeau and his Cabinet. Additionally, because NSICOP is located within the executive branch, the prime minister can ignore it at will.”
The chair of NSICOP, David McGuinty, said in the preamble to the report that “Canadians expect their security agencies to be held accountable for their actions. This is why the government established the Committee.”
The redacted version is available here.