Groups demand Ottawa take action over CSIS discrimination claims

Of note (CSIS has relatively stronger visible minority representation than most security agencies and issues annual reports as required by the Employment Equity Act as seen in the above chart):

The National Council of Canadian Muslims and two civil liberty organizations say they are “deeply troubled” by recent allegations of religious and racial discrimination within CSIS, and are demanding the federal government take “urgent, proactive and genuine” action to protect the rights of visible minority spies in the workplace.

“Public confidence in the agency demands public accountability,” says a letter that was hand-delivered to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair in Ottawa earlier this week. “A categorical culture shift inside CSIS must be demonstrated before the public’s trust can be regained.”

The letter is in response to CBC News stories last week about a lawsuit from a longtime analyst in Canada’s intelligence service who alleges his Muslim faith marked him as a target for harassment, emotional abuse and even physical assaults.

His statement of claim, filed under an identity-masking pseudonym in Federal Court earlier this month, outlines what it says was a pattern of bullying and prejudice stretching back almost two decades that saw the man treated as a “second-class citizen” by co-workers and management.

Among its most disturbing details is an allegation that the agent was humiliated and assaulted while he prayed in his office by colleagues who would utter profanities and throw open his office door, hitting him in the head or body, as he kneeled on the carpet.

“I don’t think there is anybody in terms of the class of employees lower than the practising Muslim at the service,” the analyst told CBC in an exclusive interview.

Letter questions CSIS’s ‘organizational culture’

The letter to the public safety minister, also signed by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, references past lawsuits by minority CSIS employees that were eventually settled out of court. It also questions the spy agency’s repeated claims that it has zero tolerance for discrimination in its workplace.

“The fact that Muslim and other minority CSIS employees have resorted to suing the agency in order to come forward and be heard raises many questions about the agency’s organizational culture, and its commitment to resolving its issue beyond making vague public statements,” the letter reads.

It also expresses concern that the agency’s culture of “total secrecy” might be inhibiting other affected employees from bringing misconduct complaints forward, or enabling managers to punish those who dare to voice objections about mistreatment.

“Retaliation by such agencies against truth-tellers is easy and devastatingly effective,” it warns.

A longtime employee is suing Canada’s spy agency for racial and religious discrimination. In this exclusive interview, the man — who can’t be identified by law — tells CBC News how his co-workers allegedly reacted when he would pray in his office. 1:37

As such, the three groups are asking Ottawa to extend federal whistleblower protections to CSIS employees, or give intelligence oversight bodies the explicit power to look into workplace complaints.

“We’re not advocating that these agents or employees reveal any sort of state secrets that would put security at risk,” said Sameha Omer, director of legal affairs for the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “What we’re advocating for is that agents be able to be protected under whistleblower legislation. For them to be able to come forward internally, to be able to make that complaint, they need to know that even if they do come forward, they’re not going to face any sort of reprisal.”

Looking for more disclosure

The NCCM and the other signatories would also like more disclosure about the spy agency’s efforts to recruit and promote minorities within its ranks, suggesting that the government mandate “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” audits at least once every five years and share the results with the public.

A 2014 equity audit, released under Access to Information legislation, showed that 14.4 per cent of the spy agency’s 3,000 employees were visible minorities, while 3.6 per cent had disabilities and two per cent were Indigenous. At the time, none of CSIS’s senior managers were minority or Indigenous, and only 17 per cent were female.

Tim McSorley, the national co-ordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group — a coalition of 45 NGOs, unions, professional associations, faith groups and environmental organizations — said the allegations of discrimination within CSIS raise questions about the agency’s external mindset, too.

“It really resonates around those issues of how CSIS approaches the Muslim community at large, if this is what happens to people within their own workplace,” McSorley said. “If this is how they treat a colleague and how they react to somebody’s background and religion in the workplace, particularly someone of the Muslim faith, then what does that signal to the communities that they are meant to be protecting?”

McSorley said his group is hopeful that the Liberal government will take meaningful action to make the intelligence service more accountable to both Parliament and the public.

“[The government] has talked a lot about bringing more transparency,” he said. “I think this provides another real opportunity to them to make good on that.”

Blair’s office declined an interview request, but a statement provided to the CBC says that he is concerned about all allegations of harassment and discrimination.

“We are committed to ensuring that our security agencies are worthy of the trust of Canadians and we are committed to strengthening accountability. Across all agencies and departments, our government will strive to ensure that all employees are treated with fairness, respect and dignity, and we will work tirelessly to foster a workplace that is safe for all,” it reads.

But Omer said that platitudes about diversity and inclusion won’t suffice this time, and that the National Council of Canadian Muslims needs to know what steps CSIS has already taken to confront discrimination in the workplace — and what more they will do in the face of the new allegations.

“Our organization, our community itself, they want answers,” she said. “We do want to know what happened.”

Source: Groups demand Ottawa take action over CSIS discrimination claims

CSIS settles multimillion-dollar lawsuit with employees who claimed workplace Islamophobia, racism and homophobia

Appears new CSIS director understood the implications and reacted quickly:

Canada’s spy service has settled a multimillion-dollar lawsuit with five intelligence officers and analysts who claimed they faced years of discrimination because they were gay, Muslim or Black.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service posted a comment from director David Vigneault on the agency’s website Thursday afternoon, stating that the agreement had been reached with the help of a mediator.

“The settlement is in the best interest of all those concerned,” Vigneault wrote. “The complexity of the ever-evolving threat environment requires that all CSIS employees are equipped to give their best. As such, I strongly believe in leading an organization where each employee promotes a workplace which is free from harassment and conducive to the equitable treatment of all individuals.”

CSIS did not release the terms of the settlement, saying they are confidential.

Toronto lawyer John Phillips, who represented the five employees, said he could not comment on the case.

The $35-million lawsuit, launched in July, was a rare public airing of internal complaints at one of Canada’s most secretive organizations and contained detailed allegations about managers who openly espoused Islamophobic, racist and homophobic views.

Some of the most damning claims concerned emails allegedly sent by managers to Toronto intelligence officer “Alex.” (The five employees and managers are identified by pseudonyms as identifying a spy can be considered an offence under Canada’s Security of Information Act.)

“Alex,” is gay and has a Muslim partner. According to the statement of claim, one email allegedly sent in October 2015 stated: “Careful your Muslim in-laws don’t behead you in your sleep for being homo.”

Vigneault, who had only been appointed director a few weeks before the lawsuit was launched, responded quickly to the allegations.

As the Star reported in October, he invited the five employees to a lengthy meeting to hear the allegations first-hand. He also released a statement acknowledging that his agency suffers from a workplace climate of “retribution, favouritism, bullying and other problems,” which he said is “categorically unacceptable in a high-functioning, professional organization.”

via CSIS settles multimillion-dollar lawsuit with employees who claimed workplace Islamophobia, racism and homophobia | Toronto Star

CSIS faces $35-million harassment, discrimination lawsuit

Of the three – CSIS, Canadian Forces and RCMP – CSIS has the best visible minority  numbers:

Canada’s spy agency is being sued by five employees who are looking for upwards of $35 million in damages over allegations of years of harassment and discrimination based on their religion, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.

A statement of claim filed in Federal Court alleges that harassment, bullying and “abuse of authority” is rife within the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and that managers condone such behaviour.

The allegations are based on the experiences of five employees, none of whom can be legally identified within the document.

They allege that the harassment they have faced over years has caused them embarrassment, depression, anxiety and loss of income. They also allege that their complaints were ignored or dismissed by senior managers, some of whom suggested they should keep quiet out of fear of reprisal.

None of the allegations in the 54-page document have been tested in court.

In a statement, CSIS director David Vigneault says the agency does not tolerate harassment under any circumstance, which is reflected in the employee code of conduct.

Any allegations of inappropriate behaviour are taken seriously, he says.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale have yet to respond to a request for comment.

Source: CSIS faces $35-million harassment, discrimination lawsuit – The Globe and Mail

Watchdog condemns lack of diversity in CSIS senior staff

Military, RCMP, CSIS.001Valid observations but in the context of other security-related agencies, the RCMP and the Canadian Forces, CSIS looks good as indicated in the above chart:

The federal government’s human-rights watchdog has repeatedly admonished the Canadian Security Intelligence Service over a lack of diversity in its upper echelons, according to newly disclosed reports.

Records obtained by The Globe and Mail show that the Canadian Human Rights Commission has conducted two employment equity audits of CSIS over the past decade and, on both occasions, the spy agency was criticized because it had not hired a sufficient number of visible minorities, people with disabilities and indigenous Canadians.

The 2014 and 2011 audits found that none of CSIS’s senior managers were indigenous or visible minorities, and only 17 per cent are women, a decrease of 13 per cent since 2009. “Your organization has a lower overall EE [employment equity] result when compared to separate agencies and is therefore considered to be a less successful employer with respect to EE,” the commission wrote, urging the agency to close gaps in its hiring practices. One of its main challenges, the commission noted, was to increase the diversity of its managerial staff.

Formed three decades ago from a former RCMP intelligence division, CSIS is a $500-million-a-year organization with 3,000 employees. Many of its staff are intelligence officers who work to identify terrorists and other threats to national security. Such work has sometimes led to tensions with indigenous and Muslim groups, who have accused the agency of racial profiling.

The documents, obtained under Access to Information laws, offer a sober assessment of an agency that has at times struggled to attract recruits from varied backgrounds, and sheds new light on the workplace culture of the country’s secretive spy service.

One of the areas in which CSIS exceeded the commission’s targets, which are based on the availability of people from different groups in the work force, is gender equity across its departments. According to a 2014 equity report, 48 per cent of CSIS employees are women, a figure that is above the government average.

And over all, 2 per cent of its employees are indigenous, 3.6 per cent have disabilities and 14.4 per cent are visible minorities. Those numbers are generally representative of the country’s population, but they are slightly below the commission’s targets.

A spokeswoman for CSIS said the agency sees diversity as a “core business strategy,” one that allows its agents to “better understand the demographics of the Canadian communities we protect, therefore better equipping us to collect relevant and accurate intelligence.” The human-rights commission investigates government departments that are less diverse than their peers. Under federal law, every department and agency with at least 500 employees is subject to a review of its work force every three years. If a group of Canadians is not well represented, an audit is done.

The documents also suggest visible minorities and indigenous people were sometimes undervalued within CSIS. Members of those groups faced “attitudinal barriers” from colleagues and did not always receive the training needed to “advance to a higher level either due to lack of time, funding or management support,” a report said.

Source: Watchdog condemns lack of diversity in CSIS senior staff – The Globe and Mail

Spy agencies see sharp rise in number of Canadians involved in terrorist activities abroad – The Globe and Mail

Not totally unsurprising that the numbers have increased, as well as our ability to detect:

Canada’s spy agencies have tracked 180 Canadians who are engaged with terrorist organizations abroad, while another 60 have returned home.

The latest figures mark a significant increase from the findings of the 2014 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada, which identified about 130 people involved in terror-related activities overseas, including 30 taking an active role with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and the Nusra Front in Syria.

“The total number of people overseas involved in threat-related activities – and I’m not just talking about Iraq and Syria – is probably around 180,” Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Michel Coulombe told The Globe and Mail after testifying before the House of Commons public safety committee. “In Iraq and Syria, we are probably talking close to 100.”

These people are involved in various activities, including direct combat, training, fundraising to support attacks, promoting radical views and planning terrorist violence.

Mr. Coulombe said about 60 suspected foreign fighters have returned to Canada, although he stressed the numbers keep changing almost daily.

Source: Spy agencies see sharp rise in number of Canadians involved in terrorist activities abroad – The Globe and Mail

Phil Gurski’s take on their testimony:

I think the most important message in all this is that despite a rise in those who pose a real terrorist threat, the number is still relatively low, and perhaps manageable – though I will of course leave it to CSIS and the RCMP to make that call – in comparison to other countries.  Our allies in Europe and the Middle East are facing threats that are orders of magnitude larger than ours.  We here in Canada remain more or less safe: that does not mean that the threat is not real and that we can start shaving money and resources from our security intelligence and law enforcement agencies.  Again, though, it is important to see the positive side of this.  Sorry for the repetition, but the terrorist scourge does not represent an existential threat to this country and most likely never will.  The glass is half full people.

The current terrorist threat environment in Canada


Advise to the Liberal government on security oversight and countering violent extremism: Gurski

Phil Gurski’s advice to the Liberal government on oversight and countering violent extremism:

a) whatever model is chosen it has to be a made in Canada one.  I see that the Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale, is visiting some of our Allies to see how they do things.  This is a good start, but in the end we have to come up with our own solution. We can certainly learn, both the good and the bad, from what others have done.  Yet we have this Canadian tendency to defer to others (“let’s just do what the US is doing!”).  I saw it so many times when I worked for the federal government.  Maybe it’s good ol’ Canadian deference, I don’t know.  But it has to stop.  We have good people and good ideas too.

b) we need to build on what we already have started.  Especially on the CVE front, Public Safety Canada – specifically the Citizen Engagement section – had a wonderfully successful outreach programme in place that was paying off huge dividends before some – ahem, unfortunate – government-led incidents brought it to a standstill.  I know that there are community leaders across Canada who want to restart this.  Not only was it successful here but other countries had expressed interest in learning from ushow to do CVE.  Let us use this as our new jumping off point.

c) we need to inform Canadians.  Yes there are aspects to security intelligence that cannot be disclosed, but regular messaging from the government, and preferably from the heads of CSIS and the RCMP, will serve to keep Canadians in the loop on the nature of the threat we face and avoid the vacuum that currently exists and which is filled by those with little insight or knowledge of what is happening.

d) we need to hear from Canadians at all levels: federal, provincial, territorial, first nations, municipal and average Joes and Jills.  There are some amazing efforts currently in force at the city police level with respect to early intervention – Calgary Police’s Redirect programme and Toronto Police’s Focus Rexdale are but two examples – that are working and should be picked up on.  The solutions we need often begin locally so we need to bring in local, knowledgeable partners.  Let us also ask Canadians what they think.  Perhaps another public Parliamentary set of hearings is warranted.

There.  That’s my two-cents’ worth.  Have at ‘er.  At the end of the day we can do this and do this well.  We already have world class security intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Let’s match that when we create oversight and CVE capability.

Source: Borealis Threat & Risk Consulting

Former CSIS analyst on homegrown terrorism and Islamic doctrine – The Globe and Mail

Good interview with Phil Gurski, former CSIS homegrown terrorism expert, regarding the messages in his new book, The Threat From Within. Last para particularly noteworthy:

You write that extremism is like the aphorism about real estate and location – but “narrative, narrative, narrative.”

What they [al-Qaeda-inspired radicals] are propagating and distributing is this conviction they are responding to our aggression as Westerners, and they are merely defending themselves. And that’s not true, but it doesn’t have to be true to be effective. The whole point of the book is there is no pattern to this. We have to accept that terrorists come from us. They come from Canadian society. They are not off-the-boat immigrants.

You point out, though, the narrative is partly rooted in religious doctrine, or at least concepts like jihad, hijra …

Here’s the dilemma that mainstream Muslims face: The people who commit these acts of terrorism see themselves as actually representative Muslims. In fact, they see themselves as the only true Muslims and start criticizing everyone else as being non-Muslims. So it comes from within Islam, but it is not Islam. How do we accept they have taken pieces of 1,400 years of Islamic history, and use it to their advantage?

You write that fundamentalist imams in Canada should be challenged.

Even if we’re not talking about terrorism, if we’re talking about small pockets of society that will basically advocate intolerance and rejection of other parts of society, do we want a country like that? What the [fundamentalist preachers] do is they are very intolerant and rejectionist of other Muslims, let alone non-Muslims. I think we have an obligation to challenge this, to argue against this.

But our political leaders don’t know the difference between Islamic doctrines.

Politicians are going to do what politicians are going to do. That’s fine. Everyone recognizes if we’re going to talk about this issue, to do something about it at an early level, we need early intervention, before it becomes a security-intelligence issue. The government’s role is to foster and encourage the grassroots that are starting in this country. The government role has to be very much a background role.

But if the problem is narrative, and the narrative has had 1,400 years, how does someone in Ottawa come up with a program to counter it?

The line I like to use – and it really shocks some audiences – is that right now the only solution we have is to start with the four-year-olds. If we can get all the four-year-olds to understand what this narrative is saying and reject it, we’ll be fine.

Like in junior-high assemblies where the police used to say, “Don’t do drugs?”

No, it’s more than that. We as a society have to understand the child you’re raising has to be raised in an environment of tolerance and acceptance. So if you can get that right across the board – not just Muslim communities, not just immigrant communities, but in Wonder Bread white communities – we’re going to be in good shape.

Source: Former CSIS analyst on homegrown terrorism and Islamic doctrine – The Globe and Mail

Spymaster warns foreign fighter phenomenon getting worse

Despite the political level over-hyping and using extremism as a wedge issue, the risks remain:

Authorities have multiple concerns about the “foreign-fighter” phenomenon. One is that young Canadian Muslims and new converts travelling to combat zones in Iraq and Syria are engaging in terrorism by supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Those who survive and return to Canada as trained terrorist fighters present a greater danger. Authorities especially fear the longer-term cumulative effect the foreign-fighter phenomenon could have on domestic safety and security.

As well, individuals police and other authorities prevented from leaving the country for the purpose of terrorism, which is now illegal in Canada, might react violently on Canadian soil.

That was the case Oct. 20, when Martin Couture-Rouleau struck and killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent with a car in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. Couture-Rouleau was one of the 90 people on the RCMP’s watchlist of radicalized, high-risk individuals. Police tried and failed to restrict his movements by seeking a court-ordered peace bond. But a Quebec prosecutor believed there was insufficient evidence to take the case before a judge.

Meanwhile, Coulombe singled out to the committee what he said are two common misconceptions about CSIS and its proposed powers under C-51:

First, giving CSIS disruption power will not take away any authority from the RCMP to launch criminal investigations and prosecutions, he said. “The bill will not make CSIS a secret police force. CSIS is not a law enforcement agency, and this bill will not change that, nor confer any law enforcement powers to the service.”

Second, the bill will not increase CSIS’s ability – or desire – to target environmentalists or other activist groups, he suggested. Under the 31-year-old CSIS Act, which remains unchanged under C-51, the definition of threats to the security of Canada excludes lawful advocacy, protest and dissent, he stressed.

However, with respect to C-51, it may be time for a Reagan (recycled Russian) quote “trust but verify” rather than reassurances from the bureaucratic level (or the political level).

To be reframed: “trust with oversight.”

 Spymaster warns foreign fighter phenomenon getting worse | Ottawa Citizen.

CSIS highlights white supremacist threat ahead of radical Islam

A reminder that the threats are broader than government messaging and labelling would suggest:

“Lone wolf” attacks more often come from white supremacists and extreme right-wing ideologies than from Islamic radicalism, internal CSIS documents say.

Citing recent academic research, the unclassified documents note extreme right-wing and white supremacist ideology has been the “main ideological source” for 17 per cent of so-called lone wolf attacks worldwide.

Islamic extremism accounted for 15 per cent of such attacks, the document noted, while left-wing extremism and “black power” groups followed with 13 per cent. Anti-abortion activism (8 per cent) and nationalism/separatism (7 per cent) rounded out the list, while in 40 per cent of cases there was no clear ideological motivation.

“Lone actors tend to create their own ideologies that combine personal frustrations and grievances, with wider political, social, or religious issues,” note the documents prepared for Michael Peirce, assistant director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

“This study confirms that lone actor terrorism runs the gamut of ideological persuasions.”

CSIS highlights white supremacist threat ahead of radical Islam | Toronto Star.

Un mouvement anti-musulmans menaçant sur le web

Not surprising that these movements are migrating to Canada although unlikely to have the same success as in Europe. But CSIS doing its job in monitoring:

Mais sous la rubrique «Extrémisme intérieur», le SCRS évoque l’envers de la médaille de ces menaces islamistes: l’apparition récente sur internet, au Canada, d’un mouvement anti-musulmans semblable à ceux qui existent déjà en Europe.

Les «Patriotes européens contre l’islamisation de l’Occident» (Pegida) attirent par exemple depuis quelques mois des foules impressionnantes sur les grandes places de villes d’Allemagne et du Royaume-Uni.

Le SCRS estime que ce mouvement représente un risque réel, surtout parce que ses sympathisants ont tendance à préconiser la violence dans leurs actions.

La note au ministre Blaney est datée du 18 septembre 2014, soit un peu moins d’un mois avant les attentats meurtriers de Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu et d’Ottawa, les 20 et 22 octobre. Deux militaires ont perdu la vie dans ces attentats commis par des jeunes qui, selon les autorités, se réclamaient de l’islam radical.

Peu après ces événements, des gestes de vandalisme contre des mosquées ont été signalés à Ottawa, et à Cold Lake, en Alberta, des menaces ont été proférées contre l’Association des musulmans de la Colombe-Britannique, et on a fait état d’une augmentation générale dans les signalements d’intimidation et d’harcèlement public de musulmans.

Néanmoins, le SCRS est probablement plus intéressé par le sentiment anti-immigrant et anti-Islam qui a pris racine dans certaines régions du nord de l’Europe, même parmi la classe moyenne, a fait valoir Lorne Dawson, enseignant de sociologie à l’Université de Waterloo et codirecteur du Réseau canadien pour la recherche sur le terrorisme, la sécurité et la société (TSAS).

M. Dawson soupçonne que le SCRS ait été surtout ébranlé par le massacre horrible en juillet 2011 de 77 personnes en Norvège par Anders Behring Breivik, qui avait laissé un manifeste détaillant son idéologie d’extrême-droite, incluant une perspective radicale anti-musulmans.

«En Europe, cela a tendance à attirer les individus violents. Alors s’il y a la moindre chance d’une emprise au Canada, on peut comprendre pourquoi ils sont inquiets, a-t-il évoqué. Je soupçonne qu’il s’agit simplement de diligence raisonnable pour être préparé le plus rapidement possible à la lumière (des gestes) de Breivik.»

Un mouvement anti-musulmans menaçant sur le web | National.

But under the heading Domestic Extremism, the spy service also underscored what might be the flip side of that coin — the recent development “of a Canadian online anti-Islam movement, similar to ones in Europe.”

CSIS characterized it as an “ongoing risk, particularly as its proponents advocate violence.”

The Sept. 18 briefing for Blaney’s office came a little more than a month before soldiers were killed in Canadian attacks just two days apart — murders committed by young men that authorities say were motivated by Islamic extremism.

Shortly after the killings, there was vandalism of mosques in Ottawa and Cold Lake, Alta., threats against the B.C. Muslim Association, and a general increase in reports of public bullying and harassment of Muslims.

However, CSIS is likely more interested in the kind of anti-immigrant, anti-Islam sentiment that has taken root in some parts of northern Europe, even among the middle class, said Lorne Dawson, a University of Waterloo sociology professor and co-director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society.

“They’re just not used to dealing with immigrants at all, let alone immigrants that are quite different,” Dawson said of Europe. “We have a much longer track record of immigration in general — waves and waves of immigrants that have come for decades.”

Dawson suspects CSIS is motivated by the horrific July 2011 slaughter of 77 people in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik, who penned a manifesto outlining his far-right ideology, including an extreme anti-Muslim outlook.

“In Europe, it tends to attract violent individuals. So if (there’s) any chance it’s starting to take wings in Canada, then you can see why they’re concerned,” he said. “I suspect they’re just seeking due diligence to be on top of this at the earliest possible moment in light of Breivik.”