Given that this may be the last annual report of the CSE Commissioner, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect briefly on my almost six eventful years as Commissioner.
It has been a rewarding experience and given me great insights into the important work that CSE does. At the same time, it has highlighted for me the important role that this office played over the past 23 years in helping to ensure the accountability of CSE, an organization that must of necessity work in secret to be successful. But with that secrecy comes the need to ensure that it complies with the law that grants its significant powers and that it does not infringe the privacy of Canadians.
I became Commissioner in October 2013 only a few months after Edward Snowden's unauthorized disclosures of sensitive classified material dominated news headlines. This drew attention in an unprecedented manner to signals intelligence collection, not just by the United States National Security Agency but also by its close allies, including CSE. The incident raised questions in the public mind about the legality of certain activities of the signals intelligence agencies. It equally drew into the spotlight the work of the review bodies, raising questions about their effectiveness. In this intense period, more information than ever before was released to the public. Transparency became a watchword for me and I argued constantly for additional information to be released as a way of allaying suspicions about CSE's activities. It is a fine balance, and I believe we were able to contribute in a positive and constructive way to better informing Parliament and the interested public about the activities of CSE and about my office's approach to, and results of, review. As a result of the significant discussions in the public realm, new legislation was introduced, aiming to fill gaps that were determined to have existed under the current accountability framework. This occurred not just in Canada but in several other countries as well.
About two years later, in 2015, as a result of a lengthy and profound review of CSE metadata activities, I reported to the Minister of National Defence and the Attorney General of Canada that I had found CSE to be in non-compliance with the law. This was the first time that a Commissioner wrote to the Attorney General about non-compliance. My discussions with CSE were frank and the organization cooperated fully with my investigation. I was pleased that both the Minister and the Attorney General accepted my recommendations related to metadata. This also acted as a catalyst in making CSE more transparent about its metadata activities. For the first time, a representative of CSE provided a technical briefing to parliamentarians and then to the media.
One other area that is of great importance to me is the relationship with international colleagues, especially in the context of a changing legislative environment. I was disappointed about the demise of the International Intelligence Review Agencies Conference, which met every two years from 1996 through to 2014. However, officials of review and oversight agencies from the Five Eyes countries are now meeting annually to exchange best practices and discuss issues of mutual interest and concern. This was an important step to sustain international review relationships, given the high level of cooperation among the signals intelligence collection agencies in the Five Eyes countries. Notwithstanding this development, it is also important to maintain exchanges with other international review colleagues, and I have continued to encourage this and keep up with some of those contacts.
Assessing Bill C-59, from the time that it was introduced in Parliament until now, has been a priority. It is the most significant reframing of accountability for Canada's national security intelligence activities in 35 years. I have written elsewhere about participating in the process of assessing this proposed legislation and of proposing amendments to parliamentary committees examining the bill.
I look forward to the prospect of transitioning to the new role of Intelligence Commissioner whenever Bill C-59 is passed by Parliament. And I am truly grateful for the talent, professionalism and dedication of the staff that provide me with sound, judicious advice.
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