The new head of the Toronto CSIS office says they want to hire more types of spies

When Katherine Hannah and Zahra Musaji first started working for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Agency in 1999, they could not tell you the color of the management carpet.

Hannah said that at the time they were told that women are not engaged in counter-terrorism work at CSIS-they should be engaged in human resources work.

“There is not much diversity. It’s hard to see how you adapt,” Musaji said.

Twenty years later, Hannah recently became the first woman in the agency’s history to take over the Toronto area office—the largest CSIS office gathering intelligence. And Musagi is now the first person of color to hold the title of Deputy Director-General of Toronto.

They lead a department that is responsible for some of CSIS’s most successful businesses — and is at the center of one of its most public embarrassments.

The Toronto office is $35 million civil lawsuit Muslim, black, and gay employees filed a lawsuit in 2017 on allegations of discrimination.

The spy agency conducted its own external investigation into the culture of the Toronto regional office. CSIS has rarely publicly released the results of third-party reviews—according to CSIS Director David Vigneault, the investigation found “serious concerns about retaliation, favoritism, bullying, and other misconduct, Higher vocational and professional organizations.”

Hannah and Musaji (because they are still operating and therefore unable to post their photos) sat down with CBC News to discuss this history and where they hope the department will develop.

They say that the first job is to diversify the workplace.

CSIS stated that its latest data shows that in 2019/2020, approximately 18% of its employees self-identify as people of color. Among them, only 7.6% are executives.

The agency did not specify how many intelligence personnel claimed to be visible minorities.

A report submitted to Parliament by members of the National Security and Intelligence Committee last year stated that the underrepresentation of Canada’s security and intelligence services and the rate of harassment and discrimination faced by visible minorities are “still unacceptably high”.

Critics say the agency’s lack of diversity is undermining its efforts to protect Canadians by creating blind spots in intelligence gathering.

Just last month, former CSIS employee Huda Mukbil (who is now seeking to be nominated for the New Democratic Party) stated that the agency lacks diversity “This is why individuals in the Muslim community believe that they cannot trust the organization to respond to far-right threats.”

Huda Mukbil said that during her 15-year career with the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency in Ottawa and Toronto, she was treated as a second-class spy and insider threat. (Mark Robison/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News)

CSIS headquarters stated that it began to develop a diversity and inclusion strategy last year to solve this problem.

Muslim Musaj said that CSIS staff are still telling her that these efforts are not progressing fast enough.

“We do have a systemic racism problem,” she said. “Change is coming.”

Both Hannah and Musaj said that they do not think the agency has blind spots in Muslim or visible minority communities, and they insist that it will not downplay the threat. They agreed that increasing the diversity of the team can only help CSIS fulfill its mission.

The goal is to “relieve our unconscious biases and make us better,” Hannah said.

They said they also hope that through diversified recruitment, CSIS’s relationship with various communities can be improved and more Canadians can be persuaded to report suspicious activities.

“We are not satisfied, we are working hard to move forward,” Hannah said. “Some visible minorities feel nervous… Stability is our job.”

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