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.
The legislative and policy framework governing the Service, which SIRC uses to assess CSIS activities, is contained in four main instruments:
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.
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.
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:
with respect to any act or thing done by the Service” as described in the CSIS Act;
When SIRC investigates a complaint, it releases as much information as possible to the complainant, and it also makes recommendations to the Government.
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.