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Canada’s spy and police chiefs are retiring at a crucial time

The heads of the CSIS and the RCMP are heading off into the sunset just as the Trudeau government prepares for national security overhaul
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA

The two most powerful men in Canada’s national security universe are taking a final bow and heading off to retirement this summer.

Michel Coulombe, Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and Bob Paulson, Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), both announced over the last week that they would be stepping down from their posts over the summer.

“It’s like replacing Pierce Brosnan with Daniel Craig.”


One government source familiar with both roles made it very clear that the government had not asked either Coulombe or Paulson to step aside. The source did say, however, that the government may begin looking for other skillsets in their replacements that more closely line up with the Trudeau government’s priorities.

“It’s like replacing Pierce Brosnan with Daniel Craig,” the source told VICE News.

Here is some context to explain why this matters.

  • Both men were appointed by Stephen Harper. While both jobs are non-partisan, and are usually not affected by changes in government, both Coulombe and Paulson were instrumental in defending bill C-51, Harper’s anti-terrorism legislation. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale have promised to overhaul that legislation.

  • Big changes have come to both forces. Under Paulson, the RCMP has aggressively pursued harassment complaints inside the force, ultimately setting new policies and standards to fight the toxic work environment and settling a labour dispute with a group of female officers. Coulombe, meanwhile, has seen his agency’s mandate expand to allow it to operate worldwide.

  • Trudeau has a new approach to national security. Since Trudeau’s victory in 2015, his government has been slow to move on a planned reform of Canada’s national security framework. A public consultation conducted last year resulted in a grab bag of responses that are hardly conclusive. Background documents prepared by Public Safety suggest that the government is looking towards provided broad new powers to law enforcement to break encryption, obtain Canadians’ data without a warrant, and intercept communications.

  • It might be time for a friendlier face. Trudeau’s inner circle has long be extolling the virtues of Greta Bossenmaier, head of the Communication Security Establishment, Canada’s main signals intelligence agency. Under her tenure, the government has tried to sell CSE as a more defensive agency, in order to try and shed the agency of its cybersnooping image portrayed by the Edward Snowden leaks. Paulson, who has been known to pick fights with media on Twitter, and Coulombe, who is seen as awkward and media-adverse, might be making way for more publicly-facing chiefs.