The Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner (OCSEC) was created on June 19, 1996, with the appointment of the first Commissioner, the Honourable Claude Bisson, O.C. Mr. Bisson served as Commissioner until June 2003.
For the first six years of his tenure (June 1996 to December 2001), the Commissioner carried out his responsibilities under the authority of several orders in council, issued under Part II of the Inquiries Act.
During this period, the Commissioner's role was twofold: to review the activities of the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) to determine whether they conformed with the law, and to receive complaints about the lawfulness of CSEC activities.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Parliament adopted Bill C-36, the Anti-terrorism Act, which came into force on December 24, 2001. Two features of this omnibus legislation had a direct bearing on the functions of OCSEC:
Part V.1 was added to the National Defence Act, creating a legislative framework for both the CSEC and the CSE Commissioner. It also gave the Commissioner new review responsibilities for activities conducted by CSEC under ministerial authorization.
The Security of Information Act replaced the Official Secrets Act. This legislation gives the Commissioner specific duties in the event that an individual who would otherwise be bound by secrecy seeks to defend the release of classified information about CSE on the grounds that it is in the public interest.
Public interest defence
Under this new legislative mandate — which entrenched in law the mandate the Commissioner had been fulfilling since 1996, as well as adding new responsibilities—the Commissioner retains the powers of a commissioner under the Inquiries Act.
On April 1, 2009, the Commissionerís office was granted its own appropriation. While the Commissioner continues to provide the Minister of National Defence with his reports, the Commissionerís office is separate from, and not part of, the Department of National Defence.