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Spy agency CSIS reveals 24 harassment investigations in annual report

Two Canadian Security Intelligence Service surveillance officers pose for a photograph in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

OTTAWA — Canada's spy agency has released its annual public report, revealing that it dealt with 24 harassment investigations last year involving complaints by its staff.

But the chief human resources officer for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says the number of investigations shouldn't be used to criticize the agency, and they instead show more employees are placing "faith and confidence in CSIS’ internal grievance process."

Renée de Bellefeuille says in the report issued last week that the number of investigations indicates advancements to improve workplace culture at CSIS.

She says they were bolstered by the announcement of an independent ombudsperson's office "to openly discuss workplace-related issues or concerns."

A job posting for an ombuds officer in Ottawa was advertised by CSIS on Monday, with a pay range of $134,827 to $158,601. Applicants are told not to discuss the job with anyone except their partner or close family members.

The commitment to create the position was originally made by CSIS director David Vigneault at a town hall meeting in December for all staff to discuss an investigation by The Canadian Press that described allegations of sexual assault, harassment and bullying in the agency's B.C. office.

One officer said she was raped nine times by a senior officer while on surveillance missions.

She and a colleague, who said she was also sexually assaulted by the same senior officer, launched lawsuits against the agency claiming harassment, saying they lacked faith in the CSIS grievance process.

The lawsuit by the officer who says she was raped was dismissed by the B.C. Supreme Court on the grounds that she had not exhausted the internal CSIS process, while the other officer's lawsuit had not received a response. 

Bellefeuille does not say how or if the 24 harassment investigations last year were resolved, and CSIS did not immediately respond to a request for an interview, although a spokesman acknowledged the request.

"Culture change takes time, but I truly believe that we are making great strides towards the right path to becoming an organization that truly supports and respects all employees," Bellefeuille says in the report.

"Our employees and the citizens we serve deserve nothing less."

In the public report, Vigneault refers to the investigation by The Canadian Press and says it "was not taken lightly."

He says CSIS will publish an annual report "outlining incidents of harassment and wrongdoing at CSIS to ensure Canadians can hold us accountable."

"We are determined to address any such allegations as they are brought to our attention, and in doing so, create a workplace that is respectful, safe, inclusive and ensures our valued employees can continue to protect Canada and Canadians," he says.

Vigneault first committed to creating the ombudsperson's office and the annual harassment report at the town hall meeting for the agency's 3,000-plus staff in December.

The annual report says CSIS produced 2,329 intelligence products last year and conducted 147 "engagement activities," including meetings with government, community organizations and other agencies, up 30 per cent from 2022.

It says it gave 122 briefings to elected officials, an increase of 31 per cent between 2022 and last year. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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