3 Public Servants’ Security Clearances Revoked Due to Spying or Acting as Foreign Agents: Federal Records

3 Public Servants’ Security Clearances Revoked Due to Spying or Acting as Foreign Agents: Federal Records
The Canadian flag flies near the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 17, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Isaac Teo

Federal departments and agencies have revoked the security clearances of three employees for spying or acting as foreign agents, records show, though their identities and the governments they served were not disclosed.

The details were provided in response to an Inquiry of Ministry submitted by Conservative MP John Barlow on Feb. 9. He wanted to know how many public servants have had their security clearances revoked for cause since 2016, and how many were due to individual spying or otherwise acting on behalf of a foreign government.

“Revoked for cause” is a revocation that is not due to an employee’s retirement or resignation, according to the Inquiry document.

As first reported by Blacklock’s Reporter, cabinet’s response stated one staffer from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and one from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) had their security clearances revoked for cause in 2019 for engaging in spying activities or acting as foreign agents. Prior to that in 2017, another employee’s security clearance was revoked for the same reasons by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, whose response includes that of the Canadian Coast Guard.

The CBSA said it heeds advice from the country’s top intelligence agency with regard to revocation.

“In the context of security clearances, at the Secret and Top Secret levels, a review for cause is typically initiated following receipt of new information from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) that may indicate a potential national security concern,” it said in the Inquiry document, tabled to the House of Commons on March 29.

“If the risk is assessed as being unacceptable, the deputy head, as the sole authority over the decision, may revoke the Secret or Top Secret clearance previously granted.”

Other Reasons

The three identified were among 307 federal employees who also lost their security clearances between Jan. 1, 2016, and Feb. 9, 2023, for other reasons including misconduct at work, association with suspected criminals, or convictions for offences unrelated to work, according to Blacklock’s Reporter.

In total, 10 CBSA employees lost their security clearances during the seven-year period. Data for 2017 and 2018 wasn’t available. ESDC recorded 64 staffers whose security clearances were revoked for cause, with a peak of 37 revocations in 2021. The Department of Fisheries reported nine revocations.

As for CSIS, revocation details related to the security agency’s personnel were not disclosed. CSIS said this is due to its “mandate and specific operational requirements, and in order to protect the safety and security of Canadians.”

Global Affairs responded that since 2016, the department had revoked for cause 11 employees’ “reliability status”—the minimum standard of security screening. It added that it has not revoked any employee’s security clearance status at the Secret or Top Secret level. However, it declined to provide any information related to those whose revocations were due to spying or acting on behalf of a foreign government.

“In processing Parliamentary Returns, the Government applies the principles set out in the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act,” the department said.

“Information has been withheld on the grounds that its disclosure could reasonably be expected to be injurious to the conduct of international affairs, the defence of Canada or any state allied or associated with Canada, or the detection, prevention or suppression of subversive or hostile activities.”

The Department of National Defence revoked for cause security clearances of seven employees, the Inquiry document indicated. The department stressed that it took appropriate action to address any non-compliance to internal security policies, orders, and directives from staff.

The Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s national cryptologic agency, said it found one record of an employee’s security clearance being revoked for cause in 2022.

‘Privacy and Confidentiality’

A notable case is that of Public Services and Procurement Canada, which had 121 employees—the highest number among federal departments, agencies, and Crown corporations—revoked for cause during the period requested by Barlow. The number of revocations started at three in 2016, and surged to 30 in 2018, before gradually decreasing to five in 2023.

The Canada Revenue Agency has the second highest record with 71 revocations, though none of them was due to reasons of spying or foreign agent activities. The tax collector, however, did not provide a breakdown by year and instead disclosed an aggregated sum, citing “privacy and confidentiality” concerns.

Citing similar reasons, the Royal Canadian Mint, which produces Canada’s circulation and collector coins, withheld information pertaining to revocations exercised in 2018 and 2022.

The nation’s IT agency Shared Services Canada recorded “less than 5” and declined to disclose the exact number “for privacy purposes.”

The Administrative Tribunals Support Service of Canada stated in the inquiry document that information for 2016 is “not readily available” while confirming there has been no revocation of any security clearance for cause since 2017.

Health Canada reported one case in 2017 while the Public Health Agency of Canada has three in its records, with one in 2017 and the other two in 2021.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada had one employee in 2016 and one in 2017 whose security clearances were revoked for cause.

Correctional Service of Canada, responsible for the incarceration and rehabilitation of convicted criminal offenders sentenced to two years or more, had three employees’ security clearances rescinded during the January 2016 to February 2023 period.

Other departments and agencies that each had one staff member’s security clearance revoked for cause include Environment and Climate Change Canada, Veterans Affairs Canada, Transportation Safety Board of Canada, and Canada School of Public Service.