The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC or the Committee) was established in 1984 as an independent, external review body which reports to the Parliament of Canada on the performance of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS or the Service).
Parliament has given CSIS extraordinary powers to intrude on the privacy of individuals. SIRC ensures that these powers are used legally and appropriately, in order to protect Canadians' rights and freedoms. To do this, SIRC examines operations of the Service and investigates complaints.
By preparing “
snapshots” of highly sensitive CSIS activities, SIRC helps Parliament to determine whether CSIS is discharging its mandate effectively.
Legislative and Policy Framework
The legislative and policy framework governing the Service, which SIRC uses to assess CSIS activities, is contained in four main instruments:
- The Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act promulgated on July 16, 1984. The CSIS Act (and its subsequent amendments) are the founding legislation for both CSIS and SIRC;
- Ministerial Direction. This is the principal means by which the Minister exercises his authority over the Service as set out in Section 6 of the Act. Ministerial direction gives overall policy guidance to the Director of the Service and governs a wide spectrum of Service activities. All changes to Ministerial direction are reviewed by the Committee;
- National Requirements for Security Intelligence - issued by the Minister each year, National requirements direct CSIS where it should focus its investigative efforts and how it should fulfill its intelligence collection, analysis and advisory responsibilities;
- CSIS Operational Policy - this sets out for CSIS employees the parameters and rules governing the entire range of Service activities. CSIS operational policy is regularly updated to conform with changes in legislation and Ministerial direction. Revisions to operational policy are provided to, and reviewed by, the Committee.
How SIRC Goes About Its Work
The Committee is supported by a small group of officials located in Ottawa. Day-to-day operations are delegated to an Executive Director. The Committee meets approximately nine times per year, at which time it establishes priorities and reviews the work undertaken by its staff.
Because of the small size of SIRC in relation to CSIS, the Committee operates on the basis of risk management. Since it is not capable of examining all of the Service's activities in any given period, it must carefully choose which issues to examine. A number of factors influence this selection, including shifts in the nature of the threat environment; changes in technology; the need to follow up on past Committee reviews; etc.
Reviews of CSIS Activities
As noted, SIRC conducts in-depth reviews of past operations of the Service. With the sole exception of Cabinet confidences, SIRC has access to all information held by CSIS, no matter how highly classified that information may be. Because much of this material is so sensitive that it must be reviewed on-site, the Service makes available a separate office and computers at CSIS Headquarters in Ottawa for the exclusive use of SIRC staff.
SIRC's reviews for any given year are designed to yield assessments across a range of CSIS activities. This approach helps to ensure that over time, the Committee has a comprehensive understanding of the Service's activities. Each review can include findings or recommendations. Although these are not binding, the Committee's principal role is to advise, so that the Service and those bodies of government that direct it, may take steps to modify policies and procedures accordingly.
Complaints about CSIS
SIRC's second role is to investigate complaints. Where appropriate, complaints are examined through a quasi-judicial hearing presided over by a Committee Member assisted by staff. Complaints can be made by individuals or groups, and can take one of four forms:
- complaints “
with respect to any act or thing done by the Service” as described in the CSIS Act;
- complaints about denials of security clearances to federal government employees and contractors;
- referrals from the Canadian Human Rights Commission in cases where the complaint relates to the security of Canada; and
- Minister's reports in respect of the Citizenship Act.
When SIRC investigates a complaint, it releases as much information as possible to the complainant, and it also makes recommendations to the Government.
Annual Report to Parliament
By examining operations of the Service and investigating complaints, SIRC is able to make findings and recommendations designed to improve or correct the Service's performance. The results of this work, edited to protect national security and personal privacy, are summarized in its Annual Report. This report is tabled in Parliament, usually in October. Copies of previous Annual Reports and a List of Reviews conducted by SIRC are available on this website.
- Date modified: