Canadian Security Intelligence Service

Communications Security Establishment Directorate-General for External Security National Security and Intelligence Review Agency
Canadian Security Intelligence Service
Service canadien du renseignement de sécurité
Canadian Security Intelligence Service logo.svg
Agency overview
FormedJune 21, 1984
formed by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act
Preceding agency
HeadquartersOttawa, Ontario, Canada
Employees5,500 (estimate, 2009)[1]
Annual budgetC$649.9 million (2020–21)[2]
Minister responsible
Agency executive
  • David Vigneault, Director
Parent departmentPublic Safety Canada

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS, /ˈssɪs/; French: Service canadien du renseignement de sécurité, SCRS) is Canada's primary national intelligence service. It is responsible for collecting, analysing, reporting and disseminating intelligence on threats to Canada's national security, and conducting operations, covert and overt, within Canada and abroad.[3] It also reports to and advises the Government of Canada on national security issues and situations that threaten the security of the nation.

It is headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario in a purpose-built facility completed in 1995.[4] CSIS is responsible to Parliament through the minister of public safety, and is overseen by the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. The agency is also subject to review by the Federal Court.[5]

CSIS is led by a director, the ninth and current being David Vigneault, who assumed the role on June 19, 2017.[6]


Prior to 1984 security intelligence in Canada was the purview of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). However, in the 1970s there were allegations that the RCMP Security Service – the predecessor to CSIS – had been involved in numerous illegal activities. As a result of these allegations, in 1977, Justice David Macdonald was appointed to investigate the activities of RCMP Security Service. The resulting investigation, known as the McDonald Commission, published its final report in 1981, with its main recommendation being that security intelligence work should be separated from policing, and that a civilian intelligence agency be created to take over from the RCMP Security Service.[7]

On June 21, 1984, CSIS was created by an Act of Parliament. At the time it was also decided that the activities of this new agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, should be subject to both judicial approval for warrants, as well as general review by a new body, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, as well as the office of the Inspector General (which was disbanded in 2012). Its de facto existence began on July 16 under the direction of Thomas D'Arcy Finn.[8]

At first, the main emphasis of CSIS was combating the activities of various foreign intelligence agencies operating in Canada.[9] For example, it has been engaged in investigating economic espionage involving Chinese operations throughout Canada.[10] While the threat posed by foreign intelligence agencies still remain, CSIS over the years has focused more and more on the threat to Canadian security and its citizens posed by terrorist activity.


CSIS is one of several federal departments (primarily those involved with law enforcement, security, or having a regulatory function) that has been granted a heraldic badge. The badge was created in July 1984 (pre-dating the creation of the Canadian Heraldic Authority), and received Royal approval in June 1985.[11]

On December 21, 2016, a CSIS flag was raised for the first time by the director at the national headquarters. The flag displays the CSIS badge on a white field.[12]

Mission and operations

CSIS is Canada's lead agency on national security matters and for conducting national security investigations and security intelligence collection. CSIS collects, analyzes intelligence, advises the Government of Canada on issues and activities that may threaten the security of Canada and its citizens.[13] These threats include terrorism,[14] espionage and foreign interference in Canadian affairs,[15] proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,[16] and information security threats.[17] The agency is also responsible for the security screening program.[18]

There is no restriction in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act on where CSIS may collect "security intelligence" or information relating to threats to the security of Canada. The agency may collect information on threats to Canada or Canadians from anywhere in the world. While CSIS is often viewed as a defensive security intelligence agency, it is not a domestic agency. CSIS officers work partly domestically and most often internationally in their efforts to monitor and counter threats to Canadian security.

There is a distinction between "security intelligence" and "foreign intelligence". Security intelligence pertains to national security threats (e.g., terrorism, espionage). Foreign intelligence involves information collection relating to the political or economic activities of foreign states. Previous law stated that CSIS was only allowed to collect this intelligence within Canada but due to an updated law in 2016 they are now allowed to collect that intelligence abroad as well. Since 2016, most domestic on the ground tasks are handed over to the RCMP.

CSIS has served in many different countries, especially after 9/11. Examples of some of the countries they have served in are: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Mali, Libya, Sudan, Pakistan, Somalia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

CSIS is neither a police agency nor is it a part of the military. As an intelligence agency, the primary role of CSIS is not law enforcement. Investigation of criminal activity is left to the RCMP and local (provincial, regional or municipal) police agencies. CSIS, like counterparts such as the UK's Security Service (MI5) and the US' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is a civilian agency. CSIS is subject to review by the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) as well as other legislative checks and balances. The agency carries out its functions in accordance with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, which governs and defines its powers and activities.

Canadian police, military agencies (Canadian Forces Intelligence Branch), and numerous other government departments may maintain their own "intelligence" components (i.e. to analyze criminal intelligence or military strategic intelligence). The Global Affairs Canada maintains a Security and Intelligence Bureau to review and analyze overtly acquired information. The bureau plays a coordinating and policy role. While not an intelligence agency, it is responsible for the security of Global Affairs Canada personnel around the world.[19] However, these agencies are not to be confused with the more encompassing work of larger, more dedicated "intelligence agencies" such as CSIS, MI5, MI6, or the CIA.

As Canada's contributor of human intelligence to the Five Eyes, CSIS works closely with the intelligence agencies of the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Under the post-World War II Quadripartite (UKUSA) Agreement, intelligence information is shared between the intelligence agencies of these five countries.

Permission to put a subject under surveillance is granted by the Target Approval and Review Committee.

Security Liaison Officers (SLOs) of CSIS are posted at Canadian embassies and consulates to gather security-related intelligence from other nations. This information may be gathered from other national intelligence agencies, law enforcement services and other sources. SLOs also assess potential immigrants to Canada for security issues.

CSIS has been named one of "Canada's Top 100 Employers" by Mediacorp Canada Inc. for the years of 2009–2011, and was featured in Maclean's newsmagazine.[20]



The CSIS headquarters in Ottawa, Ontario

CSIS headquarters is located in Ottawa, Ontario and is responsible for the overall operations. Regionally, Canada is broken down into six subordinate regions; the Atlantic, Quebec, Ottawa, Toronto, Prairie, and British Columbia Regions.[21]

These regions are responsible for investigating any threat to Canada and its allies as defined by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act. They liaise with the various federal, provincial, municipal and private sector entities found within their areas of responsibility. They also conduct various outreach programs with different community and cultural groups, universities, and private sector organizations in an effort to provide a better understanding, and to clear up any misunderstandings of what CSIS' role is.[22] All these regions also border the US and they therefore maintain contact with their US federal counterparts.[23]

Atlantic Region

The Atlantic Region encompasses the four Atlantic provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island and is the smallest of the six CSIS regions. Its main office is located in Halifax, with two district offices in Fredericton and St. John's.

Quebec Region

This region is responsible solely for the province of Quebec. Its main office is in Montreal, with one district office in Quebec City.

Ottawa and Toronto Regions

These two regions are responsible for operations in Ontario (except for NW Ontario). There are four district offices located in Niagara Falls, Windsor, Downtown Toronto and at Toronto Pearson International Airport.[24]

Prairie Region

Geographically, this represents the largest of the six regions and encompasses the area of Ontario north and west of Thunder Bay, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the three northern territories of Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The regional office is located in Edmonton with three district offices located in Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary.

British Columbia

This region is responsible for the province of British Columbia. Its main office is located in downtown Burnaby with a district office at the Vancouver International Airport.


CSIS is functionally divided into five branches:[25]



Research, Analysis and Production

The RAP was reorganized in 1996-1997 in order to better coordinate with the Intelligence Assessment Secretariat of the Privy Council Office.[28][25] It has four sub-divisions: Counter Intelligence, Foreign Intelligence, Counter-terrorism and Distribution.[28]


As part of an omnibus national security bill passed by the Parliament in 2019, the oversight and reporting regime for CSIS was overhauled.[29] The previous agency that handled all oversight of CSIS, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) was replaced by a new agency, the National Security & Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA), which now includes oversight of all national security and intelligence activities undertaken by any agency of the Government of Canada.

The reforms also include the creation of a new Intelligence Commissioner who reports to Parliament and has quasi-judicial oversight of all national security matters.[30]


In several instances, CSIS has been accused of misrepresenting facts to the Courts.[31] In 2013, CSIS was censured by Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley for deliberately misleading the Federal Court to make it possible for them to allow other agencies to spy on Canadians abroad, which is not allowed by Canadian law.[32] Mosley found that "CSIS breached its duty of candour to the Court by not disclosing information that was relevant," the Federal Court stated in a press release.[33]

CSIS has also been involved in cases where evidence has been mishandled or omitted from the Courts. In 2009, it was alleged that the service did not disclose information that their confidential informants, which CSIS had been relying on to gather information about their targets, were either deceptive,[clarification needed] or failed lie-detector tests.[34] This was not an isolated case, and in several other instances, the agency mishandling of evidence has also called for investigation.[35][36]

CSIS has, at times, come under criticism,[by whom?] such as for its role in the investigation of the 1985 Air India bombing. The Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182, headed by Justice John Major, is underway. Two Canadian courts have publicly criticized CSIS for destroying wiretap evidence. One court impressed upon the importance of wiretap evidence from CSIS in establishing guilt. The second focused on its exculpatory value.[citation needed]

From 1988 to 1994, CSIS mole Grant Bristow infiltrated the Canadian white-supremacist movement. When the story became public knowledge, the press aired concerns that he had not only been one of the founders of the Heritage Front group, but that he had also channelled CSIS funding to the group.[37]

On September 18, 2006, the Arar Commission absolved CSIS of any involvement in the extraordinary rendition by the United States of a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar.[citation needed] The commission found that US authorities sent Arar to Jordan and then Syria (his country of birth) based on incorrect information which had been provided by the RCMP to the US government. Arar was held by the Syrians for one year and was tortured. The sole criticism of CSIS leveled by the commission was that the agency should do more to critically examine information provided by regimes which practice torture.[citation needed]

On March 31, 2009, CSIS lawyer and advisor Geoffrey O'Brian told the Committee on Public Safety and National Security that CSIS would use information obtained by torture if it could prevent another attack such as 9/11 or the Air India bombing. Testifying before the same committee two days later, the director of CSIS, Jim Judd said that O'Brian "may have been confused" and "venturing into a hypothetical", and would send the committee a clarifying letter.[38] Two weeks later CSIS announced that Judd would be retiring in June, five months before the end of his five-year term.[39]

CSIS has come under attack on a number of occasions for what is seen by some as very aggressive tactics. A vociferous critic of the agency, lawyer Faisal Kutty, writes as follows: "Showing up at homes and workplaces unannounced; speaking with employers; offering money and favors for "information"; intimidating and threatening newcomers; questioning about specific institutions and individuals; inquiring about a person's religiosity; and discouraging people from engaging lawyers are some of the recurring themes that I have come across from clients. The problem is so severe that the Council on American Islamic Relations (Canada) has distributed almost 30,000 Know Your Rights guides and organized 27 workshops across the country on dealing with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)."[40]

Prominent Canadian national security lawyer Barbara Jackman has also been critical, categorizing the research by CSIS as "sloppy" and that its officers are "susceptible to tunnel vision".[41]

In 2017, several CSIS members accused the organization of having a racist and homophobic workplace culture.[42]

See also


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  2. ^
  3. ^ "Role of CSIS". 2009-04-09. Archived from the original on 2010-12-26. Retrieved 2010-07-24.
  4. ^ [1] Archived February 21, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-04-26. Retrieved 2007-05-09.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "Justin Trudeau appoints cabinet secretary David Vigneault to lead CSIS".
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-06-29. Retrieved 2008-03-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-06-24. Retrieved 2007-05-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-06-01. Retrieved 2012-07-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ "Government vows to curb Chinese spying on Canada". 2006-04-16. Archived from the original on 2014-10-04. Retrieved 2011-03-02.
  11. ^ General, The Office of the Secretary to the Governor. "Canadian Security Intelligence Service [Civil Institution]".
  12. ^ Service, Canadian Security Intelligence (December 21, 2016). "CSIS Director Statement regarding the raising of the CSIS flags". gcnws.
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-12-29. Retrieved 2013-01-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-03-27. Retrieved 2013-01-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-12-27. Retrieved 2013-01-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-10-19. Retrieved 2013-01-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-02-24. Retrieved 2013-01-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-12-28. Retrieved 2013-01-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ "P:\Commissions of Inquiry\Maher Arar\2005-05-17 volume 11.wpd" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-11. Retrieved 2010-07-24.
  20. ^ "All jobs at Canadian Security Intelligence Service / CSIS |".
  21. ^ "Regional Offices". Archived from the original on 2013-05-27. Retrieved 2013-08-24.
  22. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-11-16. Retrieved 2013-02-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-05-29. Retrieved 2013-02-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  24. ^ "Arrest made after scare outside CSIS offices | CTV Toronto News". 2011-01-11. Retrieved 2016-11-06.
  25. ^ a b Mark M. Lowenthal (29 September 2016). Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy. SAGE Publications. p. 410. ISBN 978-1-5063-7957-9.
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Undercover CSIS agents carry guns in foreign flashpoints". Retrieved 2020-07-06.
  28. ^ a b Inside Canadian Intelligence: Exposing the New Realities of Espionage and International Terrorism. Dundurn. 30 May 2011. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-55488-891-7.
  29. ^ Canada, Public Safety (2017-11-22). "Enhancing Accountability and Transparency". aem. Retrieved 2019-07-25.
  30. ^ Commissioner, Office of the Intelligence (2019-07-17). "Office of the Intelligence Commissioner". aem. Retrieved 2019-07-25.
  31. ^ "CSIS asked foreign agencies to spy on Canadians, kept court in dark, judge says by Ian MacLeod". Ottawa Citizen. 20 December 2013. Retrieved 2014-03-11.
  32. ^ Perkel, Colin (20 December 2013). "Judge slams spy agency for end-running law to intercept Canadians abroad". Winnipeg Free Press. The Canadian Press. Retrieved 2014-03-11.
  33. ^ "CSIS not being forthcoming with court, federal judge says by Colin Freeze". The Globe and Mail. 25 November 2013. Retrieved 2014-03-11.
  34. ^ "Spy agency bungled second terror case by Michelle Shephard". Toronto Star. 30 June 2009. Retrieved 2014-03-11.
  35. ^ "Failed lie detector test casts doubt on Harkat terror case by Andrew Duffy, Canwest News Service". National Post. 5 June 2009. Retrieved 2014-03-11.
  36. ^ "CSIS failed to give judge info on Almrei". CBC News. 30 June 2009. Retrieved 2014-03-11.
  37. ^ "Canada's Security Agency Accused of Spying on Canadians". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-11-06.
  38. ^ "Official misspoke; CSIS says it's not involved in torture". Toronto Star. The Canadian Press. 2009-04-02. Retrieved 2011-03-02.
  39. ^ "Head of CSIS stepping down". Toronto Star. 2009-04-15. Retrieved 2011-03-02.
  40. ^ "The Dirty Work of Canadian Intelligence". CounterPunch. April 28, 2004. Retrieved 2012-11-16.
  41. ^ "Defence challenges CSIS intelligence in security certificate case". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. September 12, 2006. Retrieved 2012-11-16.
  42. ^ Ljunggren, David. "Canadian spies accuse bosses of homophobia, racism: lawsuit".