Ontario’s first security advisor says his office aims to become a “centre of excellence” for assessing strategic issues beyond traditional threats and criminal investigations.
Interviewed last week during a cyber risk conference in Toronto, which he helped organize, Ray Boisvert said his team’s advice will be on strategic topics including improving resiliency of critical infrastructure, fighting extremists through counter-radicalization and how to evaluate foreign investment. “We will certainly be looking at better ways to share with the private sector, as those who own or manage critical infrastructure are key to our economy and our collective security,” he said..
A former assistant director of intelligence at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) who left the government to set up a consulting firm, Boisvert is now an associate deputy minister in the ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
The office is separate from Ontario’s corporate CIO, David Nicholl, and his head of cyber security, Mohammed Qureshi.
Boisvert assumed his position at the beginning of the year, late enough that his office’s budget for this fiscal year hadn’t been nailed down. Ultimately it will house a dozen people, possibly including some on secondment from the OPP and municipal police forces.
“We’re an analytical shop,” said Boisvert. “So we’re going to leverage the inputs of others. We’re going to work mostly through open source information. I’m a very strong advocate of open source, it’s extremely powerful in the right hands. You can learn a tremendous amount of situational awareness — understanding your environment, understanding the threats, what sort of things are impactful by simply staying on top of a broad variety of information sources.
“The trick is analytical tradecraft, and that’s what I bring from CSIS. I’ve brought in a couple of managers from CSIS, as well we’re hiring a couple of strategic analysts in various areas to help us sort through things and create assessments for the government.”
Creation of the office is a recognition by the cabinet that, outside of the federal government, Ontario is the most significant jurisdiction in the country with critical infrastructure, Boisvert said. “Three or four square kilometers of downtown Toronto represents almost 20 per cent of the country’s GDP,” he noted. But while the Ottawa has strengthened many pieces it has jurisdiction over not as much as been done at the provincial level, he said.
“And it also reflects a bit of a turn around the idea that all threats are essentially local – they’re dealt with, treated, managed, felt at a local level … We need greater partnerships with provincial, local level. So we basically stuck a flag in the ground.”
New Brunswick has had a similar office for a number of years, he said. Quebec has one too, although it is also responsible for physical security of cabinet members.
“I didn’t do this for the money,” said Boisvert. “I did it because it’s needed. It’s so appealing to build something from scratch, where I could hand pick my team, where we could build the policies necessary, we could built the vision as to what we’re trying to deliver.”
And, he added, “it was time for me to pivot to do something refreshingly different and something that’s a great challenge.”