Frequently Asked Questions
What is SIRC?
The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC or the Committee) is an independent, external review body which reports to the Parliament of Canada on the operations of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS or the Service). It provides assurance to Parliament that CSIS is complying with the law, policy and Ministerial direction, by conducting reviews of CSIS activities and by investigating complaints.
Who are the members of SIRC?
The Committee is composed of five members: Chair, The Honourable Pierre Blais, P.C., the Honourable Gene McLean, P.C., the Honourable Yves Fortier, P.C., C.C., O.Q., Q.C., the Honourable Ian Holloway, P.C., C.D., Q.C., and the Honourable Marie-Lucie Morin, P.C.
Who appoints them?
Members are appointed by the Governor-in-Council after consultation by the Prime Minister with the Leaders of the Opposition parties. All of the Committee members must be Privy Councillors, which means that they have full access to highly classified information, a privilege which is not granted to most Parliamentarians.
Why was SIRC created?
SIRC was created in response to a recommendation of the McDonald Commission, which looked into the activities of the RCMP Security Service. Its final report, published in 1981, led to the creation of a new civilian intelligence service as well as two review organizations to watch over it. SIRC was established in 1984 under the same legislation which created CSIS. It helps to ensure that CSIS does not undermine Canadians' fundamental rights and freedoms while CSIS carries out its mandate to guard against threats to national security.
How much access does SIRC have to classified information?
The CSIS Act gives SIRC the right to have “
access to any information under the control of the Service.” As a result, SIRC has the absolute authority to examine all of the Service's activities, no matter how sensitive and no matter how classified that information may be. The sole exception is Cabinet confidences, which means deliberations among Ministers.
What must I do if I want to file a complaint against CSIS?
SIRC's complaint process is governed by the CSIS Act. If you have a complaint about “
any activity or thing” done by CSIS, Section 41 of the CSIS Act will apply. If you have a complaint concerning the denial or revocation of a security clearance necessary to obtain or keep federal government employment or contracts, Section 42 of the CSIS Act applies. In both cases, the procedures for making a complaint are explained on SIRC's website.
How can Canadians find out what SIRC does?
Every year, SIRC prepares an annual report which is publicly tabled in Parliament and is available on its website. Every study conducted, every query pursued and every complaint investigated is reflected in the pages of SIRC's annual report. Because SIRC is legally obliged to withhold classified information and protect the privacy of individuals, the annual report is an edited version of SIRC's internal reports.
Why should Canadians trust SIRC?
Parliament and the people of Canada must have confidence that the Service is acting within the law. SIRC's role is to show that knowledgeable individuals, independent from CSIS and from Government but familiar with the security intelligence environment, will render an honest and fair-minded assessment based on the facts.
What governs the activities of SIRC Members?
The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) is an independent review body that reports to the Parliament of Canada on the operations of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). It conducts reviews of CSIS activities, certifies the Director of CSIS’s annual report to the Minister of Public Safety, and investigates complaints. In doing so, SIRC provides assurance to Parliament and to all citizens of Canada that CSIS carries out its activities in a manner that respects the rule of law and the rights of Canadians.
SIRC is comprised of three members who serve part-time, meeting approximately nine times per year in order to establish priorities and review the work undertaken by the staff. In addition, members are also responsible for presiding over complaints investigations through quasi-judicial hearings. The Committee is supported by a full-time Executive Director, research and legal staff.
Members of SIRC are Governor in Council (GIC) appointments who are appointed after consultation by the Prime Minister with the leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons and the leader of each party having more than 12 members in the House.
According to the Privy Council Office’s GIC Appointments Guidelines, the conduct and actions of GIC appointees, and therefore all SIRC members, are governed by the following:
- the Conflict of Interest Act which establishes conflict of interest and post-employment compliance measures for public office-holders.
- the Ethical Guidelines and Statutory Standards of Conduct which outlines four ethical principles that must be adhered to by all public office holders;
- and the Guidelines for the Political Activities of Public Office Holders which are based on the general principle that public office holders should not participate in any political activity which might impair, or be seen to impair, their ability to discharge their duties in a politically impartial manner or cast doubt on the integrity or impartiality of the office.
The above guidelines are administered by the Privy Council Office whereas the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is responsible for the Conflict of Interest Act. According to her stated mandate, the Commissioner is an independent Officer of Parliament responsible for helping elected and appointed officials, such as SIRC members and other GICs, prevent and avoid conflicts between their public duties and private interests.
SIRC also has Rules of Procedure for its complaints investigations. Any member who has had, apart from his functions as a member of the Committee, any previous or current personal or professional association with any person affected by an investigation of the Committee shall immediately advise the Chair or Executive Director and withdraw from any further participation in the Committee's proceedings in relation to that person.
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