One of the most important responsibilities of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC or the Committee) is to conduct in-depth reviews of operations of the Service. This helps Parliament to determine whether the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS or the Service) is discharging its mandate effectively and appropriately.
By preparing “
snapshots” of CSIS operations, the Committee has developed a comprehensive understanding of the Service's activities. By conducting reviews, SIRC helps to ensure the democratic accountability of one of the Government's most powerful organizations, thereby safeguarding Canadians' fundamental rights and freedoms.
The CSIS Act gives SIRC the right to have “
access to any information under the control of the Service”, no matter how sensitive and no matter how highly classified that information may be. The sole exception is Cabinet confidences.
How Reviews Are Conducted
The review process begins with the development of a research plan which is approved by the Committee before the beginning of each fiscal year. However, the plan is not static and can be adjusted to respond to unexpected events.
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.
Once the Committee has approved the broad research plan, staff resources are allocated for each review. 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.
A typical review requires hundreds of staff hours and is completed over a period of several months. Hardcopy and electronic documentation must be obtained from CSIS files, reviewed and analysed. Briefings from and interviews of relevant CSIS staff normally form part of any SIRC review.
In almost all cases, the interviews and the examination of documents generate follow-up exchanges with the Service. A report on the results of the review is presented to the Committee at one of its meetings. Once finalized, the review document is provided to the Director of the Service.
Types of Reviews
SIRC's authority to review the performance by CSIS of its duties and functions is described in Section 38(1) of the CSIS Act. The Committee is directed:
- to review the directions issued to CSIS by the Minister;
- to review the arrangements entered into by CSIS with federal, provincial and foreign agencies and police services, and to monitor the information and intelligence that CSIS provides pursuant to those arrangements;
- to review any report or comment made under the CSIS Act to the Attorney General by the Minister;
- to monitor any request made to CSIS by the Minister of National Defence or the Minister of Foreign Affairs, pursuant to Section 16;
- to review CSIS regulations;
- to compile and analyse statistics on the operational activities of CSIS; and
- where appropriate, to arrange for reviews of specific CSIS activities to be conducted by CSIS.
In addition, the Committee's staff occasionally prepare reports under Section 54(2) of the CSIS Act involving special cases that come to the attention of the Committee. Examples include the attack on the Iranian Embassy, the Air India tragedy and the Heritage Front Affair. These reports are submitted directly to the Minister.
The Committee also regularly conducts reviews of the CSIS regional offices. These may include an examination of surveillance, targeting authorizations, community interviews and other matters. Regional reviews give SIRC an opportunity to examine how Ministerial Direction and CSIS policy actually affect the day-to-day work of investigators in the field.
SIRC's reviews 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 as needed. A summary of each review, with all classified information removed, is included in the Committee's Annual Report to Parliament.
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