What is NSIRA Review?

As Canada’s independent review agency, NSIRA has a broad mandate to review any activity carried out by a federal department related to national security or intelligence.

Definition of NSIRA Review

Why we review?

Who we review?

What we review?

Conducting reviews?

The criteria for assessment can include, but need not be limited to, compliance (with law, ministerial direction, and policy), reasonableness, necessity, and efficacy. Additional criteria or lines of assessment may be determined at NSIRA’s discretion. Review can reach findings and issue recommendations with respect to the activities under consideration, as well as the broader context (e.g., governance, policy, organizational structure) in which they occur. Recommendations are non-binding on the departments and agencies to which they are issued.

Review occurs outside of the decision-making and operational process by which activities are conducted. That is, review is not connected to control or management of the activities being examined. In this way, NSIRA maintains its independence, as it is not implicated in the activities it reviews. Review is not bound by any temporal limitations. It may apply to past (completed) and present (ongoing) activities. It may also consider future activities by assessing the policies and procedures guiding a prospective activity, and highlighting potential issues before they occur.

The purpose of review is to ascertain facts after careful examination to develop findings and recommendations that inform accountability. NSIRA’s findings and recommendations are provided to the implicated departments and agencies as well as the responsible minister. NSIRA’s Annual Report, summarizing and contextualizing its review work from the previous year (including all findings and recommendations), is provided to the Prime Minister and tabled in parliament. Unclassified versions of each review report and the Annual Report are published on NSIRA’s website. In this way, review by NSIRA informs the broader deliberation – fundamental in a free and democratic society – regarding the means, lengths, and laws by which national security or intelligence activities are carried out. Crucially, NSIRA enjoys unfettered access (with the exception of cabinet confidences) to the sensitive and classified information of relevant departments and agencies, ensuring a level of scrutiny unavailable to other entities (such as civil society groups, academia, the media, etc.).

Ongoing and completed reviews

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why we review

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 government’s actions.

NSIRA reviews contain findings and make recommendations that help reviewed organizations ensure compliance. But NSIRA is not limited to compliance, reasonableness, and necessity, and can make any findings or recommendations it considers appropriate.

Reviewed organizations provide responses to NSIRA’s recommendations and implementation plans. NSIRA tracks the implementation of its recommendations on an ongoing basis.

NSIRA has a broad mandate that allows its members to review any national security or intelligence activity undertaken by any Canadian federal organization. NSIRA reviews are focused on supporting democratic accountability and transparency in the use of national security and intelligence powers.

NSIRA completes in-depth reviews that assist Parliament and Canadians in determining whether the national security and intelligence community has complied with the law and Ministerial Direction. NSIRA also assesses whether the activities in question were reasonable and necessary.

Who we review

The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency 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 or intelligence activities of all other federal departments and agencies. This includes, but is not limited to, the national security or 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).

As departmental roles and responsibilities evolve over time and departments gain new national security or intelligence responsibilities, NSIRA’s review mandate will automatically extend to those activities.

What we review

NSIRA’s Review Plan is approved by NSIRA Members. Although NSIRA must undertake certain reviews each year as set out in the NSIRA Act, most of NSIRA’s reviews are chosen by the NSIRA Members.

Members choose reviews of new, important, or of particularly high legal risk activities. The plan is regularly revised to ensure that it continues to reflect the rapidly changing national security and intelligence environment.

NSIRA reviews can focus on a program or activity within a single organization, or they can span multiple departments or agencies. Sometimes a review will begin in one department, but NSIRA then finds it necessary to “follow the thread” into another department in order to ensure a complete understanding of events. NSIRA can also undertake broad thematic reviews.

Mandatory Yearly Reviews

As set out in the NSIRA Act, NSIRA is required to conduct certain reviews each year related to:

  • At least one aspect of CSIS’s threat reduction mandate;
  • Every new or modified relevant Ministerial Direction related to National Security or Intelligence;
  • NSIRA must review the implementation of all directions issued under the Avoiding Complicity in Mistreatment by Foreign Entities Act;
  • Disclosures under the Security of Canada Information Disclosure Act.
Conducting review

NSIRA’s review process is rigorous and its Members are supported by a team of professional reviewers and lawyers.

Reviews are large, intensive projects that require hundreds of staff hours and are completed over a period of several months. NSIRA obtains paper and electronic documentation from a reviewed organization(s), and supplements these with briefings from relevant stakeholders and interviews with relevant employees. All of this information is carefully analyzed. A review is often an iterative project, with information prompting questions that in turn trigger fresh requests for information and briefings, and so on. NSIRA is legally entitled to unfettered access to all of the information in the possession, or under the control, of federal departments and agencies. The sole exception is Cabinet confidences.

In conducting reviews, NSIRA may make any findings and recommendations it deems appropriate. Often these relate to a department’s compliance with the law and applicable ministerial direction or the reasonableness and necessity of a department’s actions. NSIRA recommendations are not binding, however, NSIRA tracks departmental progress in addressing deficiencies and responding to recommendations.

When NSIRA completes a review, the resulting classified document is sent by the NSIRA Members to the appropriate Minister or Ministers. Each year, NSIRA is mandated to prepare an unclassified annual report to the Prime Minister containing summaries of its reviews, including findings and recommendations, completed during the previous calendar year. Departments and agencies have a chance to respond to NSIRA recommendations, and these responses are included in this report, which is ultimately tabled in Parliament by the Prime Minister and published on the NSIRA website.

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