The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) is an independent and external review body that reports to Parliament.
NSIRA reviews and investigates all Government of Canada national security and intelligence activities to ensure that they are lawful, reasonable and necessary. NSIRA also investigates public complaints regarding key national security agencies and activities. What enables NSIRA to be so thorough as a review agency is the NSIRA Act granting the statutory powers to access relevant information and to conduct reviews independently.
The NSIRA Act
The NSIRA Act received royal assent as part of Bill C-59 and came into force on July 12, 2019, establishing a new federal entity, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA).
NSIRA establishes independent expert review of national security and intelligence activities from all federal departments and agencies, and informs Parliament and Canadians of the lawfulness of their governments actions.
NSIRA addresses all national security grievances against the RCMP, CSIS, and CSE, as well as security clearance grievances.
Expanded Review Mandate
NSIRA has a statutory mandate to review the activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), as well as the national security and intelligence activities of all other federal departments and agencies. This includes, but is not limited to, the national security and intelligence activities of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the Department of National Defence (DND), Global Affairs Canada (GAC), and the Department of Justice (DoJ).
To fulfill its review mandate, NSIRA has unfettered access to classified information. This includes any and all information held by, or under the control of, departments and agencies, including information subject to a legal privilege. NSIRA independently determines which information is relevant to the conduct of its reviews. The sole exception to NSIRA’s right of access is information considered to be a Cabinet confidence.
In carrying out reviews, NSIRA may make any findings and recommendations it considers appropriate. In accordance with the NSIRA Act, however, it will pay particular attention to whether Government activities are lawful and comply with Ministerial Direction, and to whether the activities are reasonable and necessary.
Expanded Complaints Mandate
NSIRA inherits the complaints investigation functions of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) and gained several new roles. SIRC was responsible for hearing public complaints regarding the actions of CSIS. It was also responsible for complaints related to the Government of Canada security clearance process, as well as specific matters and reports referred to under the Citizenship Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
NSIRA now investigates complaints against CSE, and complaints against the RCMP, referred by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC). The CRCC will continue to review all other activities of the RCMP.
NSIRA replaces SIRC, which reviewed CSIS. It also replaces the Office of the CSE Commissioner (OCSEC), which reviewed CSE. The NSIRA is also assuming responsibility for reviewing the national security and intelligence-related activities of the RCMP from the CRCC.
The NSIRA Act addresses shortcomings in the national security accountability framework identified by Justice O’Connor in the 2006 report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar, and subsequently by many others.
Prior to Bill C-59, SIRC, OCSEC and the CRCC each focussed on reviewing one specific agency, but they lacked the statutory authority to review activities beyond their agency of focus in order to obtain a complete picture of cross-cutting activities. They also could not collaborate or share classified information with other expert national security review bodies. NSIRA, by contrast, is able to review all national security and intelligence activities across the Government of Canada in an integrated manner.