As Canada’s Parliament returns from a four-week recess on Monday, it will have had to grapple with a series of new challenges in the form of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, known as CSIS.
While most Canadians were already aware of the agency’s existence, some have been unaware that its role was expanded to include surveillance of suspected terrorists.
The first major overhaul of the spy agency occurred last year, when the Conservative government removed the spy directorate and the CSE from its jurisdiction.
The Liberals then created a new spy agency, the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Centre.
In April 2018, the new government passed Bill C-51, a bill that authorized CSIS to gather information on “terrorism suspects,” including individuals who have committed or are believed to have committed terrorism-related offences.
While many critics believe the legislation violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the government says the changes are necessary to combat terrorism.
The law is intended to combat the threat of “radicalization” of individuals who are “under a credible threat of harm or attack,” according to a summary of the law.
It adds that individuals who pose a “clear and present danger” to Canada’s security will be monitored.
The bill also authorized CSis to conduct surveillance on people “in the custody of the Minister of National Defence, the Minister for National Defence’s authorized agents, or authorized representatives of the government of Canada.”
This is significant, because, as of October 2017, only two countries—the United Kingdom and Australia—were known to have surveillance capabilities of this sort.
The bill also added that CSIS would be allowed to share information with other agencies that the government deems necessary to carry out the mandate of the bill.CSIS is not the only government agency that has been granted the ability to monitor Canadians.
The RCMP, the federal agency that protects the country’s borders, has been allowed to spy on Canadians since 2006.
In January 2018, CSIS was given new powers to conduct electronic surveillance.
Under the new law, the RCMP is allowed to access Canadians’ private information, including credit card data, mobile phone records, and internet browsing histories, even if they are in the United States or Canada.
However, CSis will not be able to monitor communications with foreign nationals, even though they can be “reasonably believed” to be linked to a terror suspect.
This means that CSis may not have access to the metadata on Canadians’ communications, such as who they called and when they called, or their IP addresses.
The Canadian Security Information Review Board, which oversees CSIS, also has authority to monitor the information that Canadians share with CSIS on Canadians who are in Canada.
This authority was established under the former Conservative government, and it will be used to monitor Canadian communications if it deems it necessary to do so.
But CSIS’s role is not limited to monitoring Canadians.
As of September 2019, the agency was granted the power to target foreign nationals living in Canada and conduct “intelligence-gathering activities” on those persons.
This new authority is a major step in a long process of re-evaluating the agency, which has been criticized for its excessive surveillance.
The new legislation allows the CSIS directorate to “assess the level of cooperation between the intelligence community and the Canadian security and justice services.”
The Canadian Anti, Terrorist and Prosecution Service, or CATPS, will be able “investigate and prosecute foreign nationals and persons believed to be associated with terrorist organizations,” according the law that was passed by the government.
The law allows for the agency to “make any reasonable findings that the activities undertaken by it are necessary or appropriate in the interests of national security, or that such activities are being carried out to protect the interests or property of Canada,” according a summary.
In June 2018, an internal report from the former CSIS watchdog, the Office of the Auditor General, revealed that CSISA’s surveillance was based on “incorrect, outdated, or misleading information” and that the agency “did not adequately provide the public with sufficient information about the scope, scope of or impact of its activities.”
The report also noted that CSISM had “no clear mandate” or “policy rationale” for the surveillance, which “may result in false positives, misidentifications and misidentification of foreign nationals.”
It’s unclear what the new powers will mean for Canadians who may be surveilled under the new legislation, which was passed in October 2018.
But there are several questions about what, if anything, CSISM is able to access.