SIRC's Role and Responsibilities
The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC or the Committee) is a small, independent review body which reports to Parliament on the operations of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS or the Service). It was established at the same time that CSIS was created in 1984, and derives its powers from the same legislation, that is, the CSIS Act.
The Committee is composed of five members, with the Honourable Pierre Blais, P.C. as Chair. The other Members are the Honourable Gene McLean, P.C., the Honourable Yves Fortier, P.C., C.C., O.Q., Q.C., the Honourable Ian Holloway, P.C., C.D., Q.C., and the Honourable Marie-Lucie Morin, P.C., C.M. All Members of the Committee are Privy Councillors, who are appointed by the Governor-in-Council after consultation by the Prime Minister with the Leaders of the Opposition parties.
The Committee's raison d'être is to provide assurance to the Parliament of Canada and through it, to Canadians, that CSIS is complying with legislation, policy and Ministerial Direction in the performance of its duties and functions. In doing so, the Committee seeks to ensure that CSIS does not undermine the fundamental rights and freedoms of Canadians. The Committee is the only independent, external body equipped with the legal mandate and expertise to review the Service's activities, and is, therefore, a cornerstone for ensuring the democratic accountability of one of the Government's most powerful organizations.
To provide this assurance, SIRC performs three functions. The first is to conduct in-depth reviews of CSIS activities to ensure that they comply with the CSIS Act and the various policy instruments that flow from it, and with direction from the Minister. The second is to receive and inquire into complaints by any person about any action of the Service. The third is to submit to the Minister a certificate on the operational activities of the Service.
Reviews of CSIS Activities
SIRC has virtually unlimited power to review CSIS's performance of its duties and functions. With the sole exception of Cabinet confidences, SIRC has the absolute authority to examine all information concerning CSIS's activities, no matter how highly classified that information may be.
Complaints about CSIS
SIRC's second role is to investigate complaints about CSIS brought to it by individuals or groups. These can take one of five 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;
- Minister's reports in respect of the Citizenship Act; and
- complaints from individuals denied permission to board an aircraft under Transport Canada’s Passenger Protect Program or “
no-fly” list, and from marine workers whose security clearances have been refused or revoked under the Marine Transportation Security Clearance Program, based on an “
act or thing” allegedly done by CSIS.
After receiving a copy of the Director’s report, the Committee shall submit to the Minister a certificate stating the extent to which it is satisfied with the report.
By preparing “
snapshots” of highly sensitive CSIS activities, SIRC helps Parliament to determine whether CSIS is acting appropriately and within the law.
The Service continues at all times to be accountable for current operations through the existing apparatus of government, specifically the Minister of Public Safety, central agencies and the Auditor General, Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner of Canada.
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