Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Committee able to review?
Under the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians Act, the Committee is able to review:
- the legislative, regulatory, policy, administrative and financial framework for national security and intelligence;
- any activity carried out by a department that relates to national security or intelligence, unless it is an ongoing operation and the appropriate Minister determines the review would be injurious to national security; and
- any matter related to national security and intelligence that is referred to the Committee by a minister of the Crown.
How does the Committee decide what to review?
The Committee conducts two types of reviews under its statutory mandate. It may also review any matter relating to national security and intelligence referred to the Committee by a minister of the Crown (known as a “referral review”).
The first type is called a “framework review”, and looks at the legislative, regulatory, policy, administrative and financial framework for national security or intelligence. These reviews generally involve more than one organization.
The second is called an “activity review”, and looks at any activity carried out by an organization that relates to national security or intelligence. While these reviews generally focus on only one organization, they often examine how that organization works with others to fulfill its mandate or to address issues of common concern.
The Committee considers a number of criteria when deciding what to review including:
- whether the organization was previously subject to review;
- how well known an organization’s activities are to Canadians;
- whether the activities are governed by specific legislation or government direction; and,
- the extent to which an activity may implicate the Charter rights of Canadians, Canada’s foreign relations, its sovereignty or the integrity of its institutions, economy or society.
With respect to referral reviews, the Committee also considers whether the matter is within the Committee’s mandate, merits independent and non-partisan review, and requires access to classified information for a proper review.
Are there any limitations on what the Committee can review?
Consistent with the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians Act, if a minister of the Crown determines that the proposed operation for review is ongoing and its review would be injurious to national security, they must inform the Committee of their determination and their reasons for it. In that case, the Committee cannot proceed with the review at that time.
Once the minister determines that the review would no longer be injurious to national security or the activity is no longer ongoing, they must inform the Committee that the review may be conducted.
The Committee must also coordinate with other review bodies, including the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP and the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, to avoid unnecessary duplication of work.
Is the Committee entitled to any information it requests?
In the course of its work, the Committee may review highly classified information with only a few, relatively narrow exceptions.
The Committee is not entitled to have access to Cabinet confidences, information protected by the Witness Protection Program Act, information relating to the identity of confidential sources, and information relating directly to an ongoing law enforcement investigation that may lead to a prosecution.
Ministers may also refuse to provide special operational information as defined in the Security of Information Act where its disclosure to the Committee would, in the Minister’s opinion, be injurious to national security. The Minister must provide his or her reasons to the Committee, as well as notice of the decision and the reasons for it to National Security and Intelligence Review Agency and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.
What is the role of the Prime Minister in relation to the Committee’s reviews?
The Committee provides an annual report of its reviews to the Prime Minister that includes its findings, recommendations, and any summaries of special reports. The annual report must also include the number of times in that year that a minister of the Crown determined that a review would be injurious to national security or refused to provide special operational information because it was injurious to national security. This annual report must be tabled by the Prime Minister in Parliament (in both the House of Commons and the Senate).
As reviews are based on classified information, the Prime Minister may direct the Committee to prepare a revised version of its report to protect sensitive information prior to its tabling in Parliament. The information, which may be revised is set out clearly in the Act: it is information the disclosure of which would be injurious to national security, national defence or international relations, or that is protected by litigation privilege, solicitor-client privilege or the professional secrecy of advocates and notaries.
The redaction process is analogous to the one used by the government when determining what information can be released in court proceedings under Section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act. Redactions are noted in the text of the reports by asterisks, and summaries of the redacted information are provided where readability would otherwise be affected.
The Prime Minister tables the revised report in Parliament and the report is referred to parliamentary committees in both Houses of Parliament.
The Committee may also submit a special report to the Prime Minister on any matter related to its mandate. Unless the Committee has notified the Prime Minister of its intention to prepare a summary of the special report, it is revised, if necessary, and tabled and referred in the same manner as the annual reports.
Does the Committee review instances where security or intelligence organizations may have infringed on the rights of an individual?
The Committee does not review or investigate complaints of individuals against national security or intelligence organizations. However, in the course of a review, the Committee may determine that an individual’s rights have been infringed in a manner that may not be in compliance with the law. In such a case, the Committee must inform the appropriate Minister and the Attorney General of Canada.
The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency investigates complaints against national security or intelligence organizations in four specific circumstances.
What happens to the Committee when an election is called?
The appointment of all Committee members ends once Parliament is dissolved.
What happens after an election?
Following an election, the Prime Minister has 60 days after the day on which Parliament is recalled to recommend candidates for Committee membership to the Governor in Council. This may include new members or the re-appointment of previous members.
The Prime Minister must consult with the leader of an opposition party before recommending members from that party be appointed to the Committee. The opposition party must have 12 members or more to be appointed and for the leader to be consulted.
Committee members must obtain and maintain a Top Secret security clearance so they can view the necessary materials and documents, take a prescribed oath or solemn affirmation, and comply with the procedures and practices set out in the related regulations.
How can I submit a media request to the Chair or the Committee members?
You may direct your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please be advised that the Committee only speaks through its reports. The Committee also posts an advisory each time it initiates a review, and posts the revised versions of its reports when the Prime Minister tables them in both Houses of Parliament. The Chair of the Committee may hold media interviews on specific reports when they are tabled in Parliament.