Diversifying Intelligence: History, Discrimination and the Canadian Intelligence Community



In 2017 the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) faced a discrimination lawsuit from five of its former employees. These employees alleged that they faced ongoing and regular discrimination based on their religion, race, ethnicity, gender and/or sexual orientation (Press, 2017). As many current and former intelligence officers can attest, the intelligence apparatus of Canada (and elsewhere) is still very much an “old boys club” (Press, 2017; DCAF, OSCE/ODIHER, and UN Women 2019, 13). This is not only problematic for those working in intelligence, especially those outwardly marked by their difference, but as reports show, can actually be detrimental to the main functioning of the intelligence agency which is the prevention, detection of terrorism and similar security threats (Intelligence and Security Council and Blears, 2015). Although increasing diversity and making intelligence more representative of Canadian society as a whole should be enough ethical justification for changes by itself, these diversity problems mean that Canadian intelligence services are not functioning as efficiently as they could.
Many intelligence agencies themselves have admitted that a lack of diversity is not only problematic but creates an active security concern (IC Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Office, 2017). With diversity, intelligence agencies can not only serve more people in society better, but they can also collect better intelligence from more diverse populations, and better respond to a broader range of intelligence threats. For example, gender bias, could lead to intelligence agencies underestimating and misjudging women (Chiru et al, 2022), both within their own agencies and outside of them. As the 2017 lawsuit against CSIS shows the current environment within Canadian intelligence is in many cases alienating its diverse candidates. Huda Mukbil a former CSIS employee, claimed that during her career she was treated as an insider threat and alienated as a practicing Muslim, rather than treated as a security asset (Burke and Everson, 2021). Achieving a critical mass of diverse people can help to eliminate both explicit and implicit, unacknowledged bias that can happen when all intelligence agents are all from similar background and experiences. This problem is so pervasive that some agencies have even made steps to change this. This raises the question of why this ‘old boys club’ organizational culture is still so pervasive and hard to combat, even when intelligence agencies themselves acknowledge the benefits of diversity.

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Research Area(s):

Security and Counterterrorism

RB 2023-01

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