Canada gets its first-ever intelligence commissioner

The government has appointed Canada's first-ever intelligence commissioner — the person who will help oversee some of this country's most secretive operations.

Jean-Pierre Plouffe will offer independent, quasi-judicial review before some espionage activities

Jean-Pierre Plouffe is Canada's new intelligence commissioner. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The government has appointed Canada's first-ever intelligence commissioner — the person who will help keep an eye on some of this country's most secretive operations.

It will be up to Jean-Pierre Plouffe to offer an independent, quasi-judicial review before the spy and signals intelligence agencies can perform certain espionage activities, according to a government statement released Wednesday.

Plouffe, previously the commissioner for the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), has to approve ministerial authorizations for foreign intelligence and cybersecurity activities before they can proceed. He'll also review the type of datasets the Canadian Security Intelligence Service can maintain.

"This is a new role in Canadian law, and an important one to Canada's national security framework, that aims to provide greater transparency, better accountability and, ultimately, bolstering public confidence," Plouffe said in a statement.

He will be supported by a new Office of the Intelligence Commissioner. 

The role was created by the Liberals' national security omnibus bill, Bill C-59.

It also sets up the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency to keep tabs on national security and intelligence work across federal departments, including CSIS, CSE, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canada Border Services Agency.

New powers to launch cyberattacks

The new legislation gives the CSE new powers to launch cyberattacks (also called "active cyber operations") for the first time in Canadian history. Approval rests with the ministers of foreign affairs and defence.

Such cyberattacks could be used to stop a terrorist's cellphone from detonating a car bomb, for example, or to impede an attacker's ability to communicate with others by obstructing communication infrastructure, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Every year, the commissioner will send a report about his authorizations to the prime minister, who will then table it in Parliament. However, classified and protected information will be removed.