About SIRC

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.

Raison d’être, mandate and role: who we are and what we do

Raison d’être

The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) is an independent review body which reports to the Parliament of Canada on the operations of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). The Prime Minister of Canada is responsible for SIRC.

Parliament has given CSIS extraordinary powers to enhance the security of Canadians. SIRC reports on whether these powers are used legally and appropriately in accordance to the rule of law in order to protect Canadians’ rights and freedoms. To do this, SIRC examines past operations of CSIS and conducts investigations. It has the absolute authority to examine all information concerning CSIS activities, no matter how sensitive and highly classified that information may be. The results of this work, edited to protect national security and personal privacy, are summarized in its Annual Report to Parliament.

Mandate and role

SIRC’s work is designed first and foremost to inform Canadians on whether CSIS investigates threats to national security in a manner that respects Canada’s core democratic values. It also serves to provide expert advice to policymakers and lawmakers on CSIS’s performance. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act (CSIS Act) continues to guide SIRC’s work in assessing CSIS’s performance against the mandate and authorities conferred upon it by Parliament.

Operating context: conditions affecting our work

In June 2017, the Government tabled Bill C-59. The proposed legislation intends to address the shortcomings of Canada’s recent national security laws and policies, particularly those enacted in the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 (formerly Bill C-51). As part of this package, the Government of Canada seeks to create a new review agency that will replace SIRC, and which would be responsible for reviewing the activities of all federal departments and agencies operating in the area of national security and intelligence. This is part of the Government’s commitment to bring greater transparency and accountability to Canada’s national security and intelligence apparatus. Accordingly, SIRC is following this Bill with great interest and is laying the groundwork for the Committee’s transition into the new National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. In addition, SIRC is following the work of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians and is looking forward to cooperating and delivering on its review mandate in a complementary manner with this new committee.

The Government provided additional capacity funding to SIRC until 2020 to allow it to better keep pace with CSIS’s growth and expansion of powers. This funding will allow SIRC to provide better coverage of CSIS’s activities. However, given the length of this temporary funding, SIRC will face staffing challenges. Because of this short-term approach, it is not possible for SIRC to offer permanent positions to new hires, which will limit the pool of qualified candidates and may result in higher turnover.

Key risks: things that could affect our ability to achieve our plans and results

Key risks
Risks Risk response strategy Link to the department’s Programs Link to mandate letter commitments or to government-wide and departmental priorities
SIRC’s ability to provide comprehensive coverage of CSIS’s activities and programs on a continuous basis. SIRC has a risk-based planning approach to its reviews that is used for creating the Research plan. Reviews Strengthen accountability with respect to national security and better balance collective security with rights and freedoms.
SIRC’s current ability to thoroughly examine security intelligence matters that cross over with other federal agencies and departments is at risk because SIRC’s mandate is limited to the review of CSIS’s activities only. Engage stakeholders, and Parliament in the context of Bill C-59, in order to continue to raise awareness of the issue. Reviews Strengthen accountability with respect to national security and better balance collective security with rights and freedoms.
SIRC’s limitations relating to the number of FTE’s and to the retention of qualified personnel. SIRC has a staffing plan with options for short term hiring. Reviews
Internal Services
Strengthen accountability with respect to national security and better balance collective security with rights and freedoms.
There is a risk that surges in the volume of investigation files, or other unexpected specific operational demands, challenge SIRC’s ability to discharge its quasi-judicial mandate in a timely fashion. Resource planning and allocation will have built-in flexibility to allocate resources if and where required. Investigations Strengthen accountability with respect to national security and better balance collective security with rights and freedoms.

On an annual basis, SIRC must manage the inherent risk of being able to review only a fraction of CSIS’s activities. The temporary additional funding approved in 2017 will allow SIRC to provide a more comprehensive coverage of these activities up until March 31, 2020. Accordingly, SIRC’s annual research plan will need to address a broad range of timely and topical subjects while ensuring careful scrutiny of all areas deemed high-risk. At the same time, SIRC will need to ensure that low-risk areas are reviewed on a continuous basis.

Increased domestic and international cooperation and information-sharing are key features of contemporary intelligence work. Yet, SIRC’s mandate is limited to reviewing CSIS’s activities, meaning that its reviews cannot “follow the thread" of a CSIS investigation when it involves another government department or agency. This gap would be filled by the creation of NSIRA upon the passing and Royal Assent of Bill C-59. Until that time, SIRC will continue to be restricted to reviews that cannot cover national security matters that go beyond CSIS –€“ even though these matters may influence CSIS’s actions or advice.

SIRC received three-year funding for additional capacity. Any positions associated with this funding will be staffed using short term mechanisms, which will introduce certain risks associated with recruitment and retention of qualified employees. Onboarding plans for Reviews, Investigations and Internal Services will reduce the learning curve. However, it will not decrease the risks associated with the departure of qualified employees. Due to its small size and the current impossibility to offer permanent positions, SIRC will not be able to reduce this risk in the short term.

As the volume of investigation files depends on external factors, such as members of the public filing a complaint or referral of a matter from another institution, SIRC does not control the operational demands of its quasi-judicial function. Investigations will continue to build flexibility in its case management processes to support SIRC members to effectively manage and complete investigations

Gender-based analysis plus

General information
Governance structures The current framework for GBA + does not apply well to SIRC because our mandate and purpose is to review the activities of another organization and therefore, our policies do not extend to any such impact of a wider audience. In addition, on the complaints side, complainants approach us and well documented process is systematically followed in all cases, ensuring a non-discriminatory process.

GBA+ could be considered when developing SIRC’s research plan. As well, in the context of certain types of reviews of CSIS activities, such as mental health, attention could be paid to issues raised by Gender-based analysis plus.
Human resources N/A
Planned initiatives SIRC staff will be encouraged to consider training in GBA + in their individual training plans for 2018-19.

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:

  1. 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;
  2. 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;
  3. 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;
  4. 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:

  1. complaints “with respect to any act or thing done by the Service” as described in the CSIS Act;
  2. complaints about denials of security clearances to federal government employees and contractors;
  3. referrals from the Canadian Human Rights Commission in cases where the complaint relates to the security of Canada; and
  4. 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.

Departmental Results Framework

The Departmental Results Framework consists of the department's Core Responsibilities, Departmental Results and Departmental Result Indicators.

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