Backgrounder Article from
National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians
The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring the protection of the public and the need to uphold the rights and freedoms of individual Canadians. The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) is a crucial step to meet this commitment.
The NSICOP would be a statutory committee of parliamentarians appointed by and administratively housed within the executive branch. This proposed structure is designed to give the committee a high-degree of independence and access to classified government information, while providing for necessary controls on the use and disclosure of this information.
It would consist of nine members – two from the Senate and seven from the House of Commons (with a maximum of four members from the House of Commons from the governing party) – that would be appointed by the Governor in Council on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.
Committee members would be required to obtain a security clearance and swear an oath of secrecy before assuming their position on the committee, and would need to maintain the confidentiality of information they receive. Members would not be able to claim parliamentary immunity if they disclosed classified information.
The committee would have a broad government-wide mandate to scrutinize any national security matter. The NSICOP would be empowered to perform reviews of national security and intelligence activities including ongoing operations, and strategic and systemic reviews of the legislative, regulatory, policy, expenditure and administrative frameworks under which these activities are conducted. It would also conduct reviews of matters referred by a minister. Given its broad mandate to review any operation, which includes on-going operations, a minister would have the authority to stop such a review if it would be injurious to national security.
The committee would have robust powers to access any information to conduct its reviews, subject to specific limitations such as to protect third parties, prevent interference in active military operations and maintain the independence of law enforcement functions. While the NSICOP would have a right of access to information it requests, the legislation would allow Ministers to withhold special operational information, but only if the disclosure would harm national security. The responsible minister would need to provide the committee with the rationale for their decision to withhold information.
The NSICOP findings and recommendations will be tabled in Parliament. The government will review the committee’s reports before tabling to ensure that they do not contain classified information.
In addition to establishing the NSICOP, the legislation also establishes a new dedicated secretariat with a deputy head, to ensure that the committee will have the necessary support and resources to conduct its reviews.
Increased accountability of Canada’s national security system
Canada currently has a number of review bodies that examine the activities of government organizations and agencies involved in national security operations, namely the Security and Intelligence Review Committee, the Commissioner of the Communication Security Establishment, and the RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. While these bodies do important work in examining how our key national security agencies operate, they are organization-specific and do not directly engage parliamentarians in their reviews. The NSICOP would fill these gaps and provide for government-wide reviews. The legislation allows for the NSICOP and the review bodies to coordinate and collaborate within their respective mandates to minimize duplication and ensure effectiveness and efficiency in the broader review framework.
With the NSICOP, Canada will join its “Five Eyes” partners in having a permanent mechanism for review of national security activities by parliamentarians. The proposed legislation provides for a review after five years to ensure that it continues to meet its objectives.
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Hon. Dominic LeBlanc Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Government and Politics
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