Summary Report of the Meeting of the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security - March 1-3, 2024

Ottawa, Ontario

The Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security (CCRS) met in Ottawa from March 1 to 3, 2024. Officials from Public Safety, the Department of Justice, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and the Canada Borders Services Agency (CBSA), were in attendance.

Hate Crimes and Social Cohesion

Public Safety officials led a discussion on Hate Crimes and Social Cohesion. This was a follow-up from the December 1, 2023 CCRS meeting. This was an opportunity for members to update on the ongoing issues in their communities and for Public Safety officials to update on the work done to date by the federal government, including the expansion of the Security Infrastructure Program (SIP), the work of the Community Resilience Fund and connecting with groups across the country, and conveyed what the federal government has been hearing from police agencies across the country in regards to reported hate crimes.

There was a consensus that cross-sectoral collaboration, community engagement and clear communication continue to be key priorities for establishing and rebuilding trust. There was an in-depth discussion regarding the under-reporting of hate crimes and why this might be occurring. Department of Justice officials explained how not all crimes motivated by hate are logged as such, making it difficult to gather accurate data, and that work is underway to create a hate offense that will allow prosecutors to lay more accurate charges. Officials recognized the importance of local police working with community partners, so people know where to go to report hate crimes, and some members raised the need for more victim follow-up and networks of support.

There was a discussion around the spike in online extremism in youth in Canada and the importance of monitoring it and better understanding how and why this is happening. Not only are more youth being radicalized, it is also happening at a much faster pace. Members recommended the government work with schools and train school staff, including providing resources and training, to protect students from online threats.

Members raised the issue of community intimidation, where events such as protests make them feel unsafe and unprotected in their communities. Attention was brought to the concept of ‘community' and the importance of identifying factors that make all Canadians – not just specific communities – feel unsafe. Issues such as food and housing security, the toxic drug supply, and the ongoing mental health crisis were highlighted as being major contributors to Canadians not feeling safe in this country. It was noted that these issues often impact vulnerable people and marginalized communities first.

Members recognized that the expanded SIP helps communities but noted the application process can be onerous for smaller community groups who do not have the experience or resources to apply for them. Members and government officials discussed different ways to address this, including leveraging existing community organizations to help with application-writing and to explore a ‘train the trainer' model and recognized work that had already been done to improve the SIP.

Foreign Interference

Officials from Public Safety, Department of Justice, and CSIS then provided an update on the Foreign Interference consultations that ran from December 2023 to February 2024. Officials reported that overall, there was a generally positive response from stakeholders and that the majority of Canadians are receptive to the proposed legislative amendments.

CSIS and proposed amendments to the CSIS Act were discussed. There was a recognition that better communication and education are necessary to explain to Canadians CSIS' mandate and activities. National security is no longer a matter that just affects governments, but one that impacts economies, academia and many Canadian communities. CSIS discussed the proposal to authorize broader information sharing to build resiliency to the foreign interference threat with stakeholders.

Counter-Terrorism Strategy

Public Safety and members then discussed the government's draft updated Counter-Terrorism strategy, specifically on whether it adequately reflects the current concerns and realities of members and their communities. Canada's current Counter-Terrorism strategy was developed in 2012 and the updated version will reflect the current threat environment and a whole-of-society approach to countering violent extremism and terrorism. Members were generally supportive of the strategy, but raised the following considerations:

The strategy needs to be clear in its intent to educate Canadians on all forms of terrorism – both domestic and international. It needs to define the different types of terrorism and take a prevention-based and community-centric approach, rather than focusing only on a victim-centred approach.  Some members emphasized the need for community and grassroots dialogue for a whole of society approach to counter terrorism with a focus on education and in-person engagement. Members also highlighted the need to recognize that terrorism is a social problem – values are shifting - and that an integrated approach needs to be adopted in order to address it.

Traveller Modernization Initiative and Biometrics

The CBSA engaged members on their Traveller Modernization Initiative, a multi-year project seeking to provide safe, efficient and modern voluntary digital tools to enhance the travel experience for people crossing the Canadian border. Members were impressed with the CBSA's modernization strategy, but had questions regarding data collection/security and accessibility. Members also stressed the importance of balancing technological advantages with the benefits of human involvement. For example, technology is better at linking an individual to a photograph but humans are better at reading face and body language. Officials explained how they are working to improve the entire traveller experience, levering technology and ensuring security. Members validated this approach and emphasized that facilitating and streamlining the entire traveler journey was of high importance.

CSIS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

To conclude, Members had the opportunity to visit CSIS Headquarters where CSIS officials discussed the Service's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) strategy and their ongoing work dedicated to repairing and reestablishing trust with communities across Canada.

Officials explained that their current work is focused on improving its internal culture and how they are perceived externally as an employer, highlighting important elements of the DEI strategy and how they have shifted their recruitment and hiring, as well as their leadership development approaches. The DEI strategy was made public in 2023 making Canada the first of the Five Eyes countries to do so. There was an in-depth discussion related to barriers to equity hiring, which included language and security requirements, as well as the fact that most positions are based out of the National Capital Region. There was a recognition that in order to build trust, CSIS needs to continue to build partnerships and work with communities to be more transparent and collaborative.

The two-day meeting concluded with a commitment to meet again in the coming months and to continue to engage and collaborate on key issues on an ad-hoc basis going forward.

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