Annual report 2019–20

Our purpose

The Government of Canada’s Advisory Council on Artificial intelligence was launched in May 2019 by the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. The Council Members advise the federal government on how Canada can build on its strengths and global leadership in AI and ensure that developments in the field reflect Canadians’ values and create inclusive economic growth.

AI represents a powerful set of technologies with the potential to touch or transform every major sector and industry in Canada. There is tremendous opportunity to increase Canadian competitiveness in its traditionally strong industries and simultaneously grow its technology sector to the benefit of all Canadians.

Our year in review


The Advisory Council’s first priority was the establishment of the Commercialization Working Group, focused on creating value and inclusive economic growth from Canadian-owned AI and data analytics.

The working group specifically focused on three key areas:

  • How to turn Canadian research and IP into valuable and responsible AI products and services;
  • How to increase business adoption of AI to increase Canadian business productivity and grow the domestic market for Canadian AI products and services;
  • How to encourage the rapid growth and scale up of Canadian AI firms.

Launched in August 2019, the working group was co-chaired by Foteini Agrafioti, Advisory Council Co-Chair and head of Borealis AI, and John Shannon of the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program. The Group met regularly through fall and winter and presented their recommendations to the AI Advisory Council in a final report in early 2020. Recommendations were then presented to the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry.

The commercialization working group’s final report recommendations focused on five key pillars:

  • People (Access to expertise)
    Heightening access to AI skills and talent for industry.
  • Policy (Environment for innovation)
    Improving the legal and regulatory environment for AI commercialization.
  • Program (Adoption by industry)
    Integrating AI into industry for greater productivity and growth
  • Podium (Growth through communication)
    Demonstrating Canada's success stories.
  • Platform (Infrastructure for development)
    Ensuring affordable access to AI computing tools for entrepreneurs.

Canada has incredible strength in the field of AI, and the recommendations set out in the working group’s report should help ensure the AI ecosystem continues to flourish and translates into meaningful and inclusive economic growth. Harnessing Canada’s innovative capacity and deep strength in AI to boost its economic productivity will be critical in the country’s economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Global Partnership on AI and Montreal Centre of Expertise

The AI Advisory Council has supported and informed the federal government in its ongoing efforts to establish both the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI, formerly known as the International Panel on AI) and the Montreal Centre of Expertise.

As announced by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron on June 7, 2018, Canada and France are working with international partners toward the establishment of GPAI, which will be an expertise-based organization dedicated to AI that brings together the greatest AI experts globally (scientific community, industry, civil society, etc.) to foster international collaboration and coordination on AI policy development. It will work over the long-term on identified topics to become a global reference point on AI.

In September 2019, the Governments of Canada and Quebec announced the creation of a Montréal-based international centre of expertise for the advancement of artificial intelligence as part of GPAI. In collaboration with industry, the scientific community and civil society, the Montreal Centre will contribute to the responsible development of AI founded on ethical principles, human rights, inclusion, diversity, innovation and economic growth.

The Council has helped shape the declaration of GPAI, and its terms of reference, and provided feedback on the mandates for GPAI’s four working groups on data governance, responsible AI, the future of work, and innovation and commercialization. The Council has also recommended Canadian experts to participate as members and co-chairs for GPAI’s various working groups.

Public awareness

Noting the importance of a two-way dialogue with the Canadian public on AI, the Advisory Council launched a working group dedicated to public awareness in January 2020. The working group was mandated to develop regional strategies to boost public awareness and foster trust in AI while providing a measured understanding of the technology, its potential uses, and its associated risks. The working group was temporarily paused due to uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic, however, given the significant importance of this issue, the group will re-commence discussions shortly and this will remain a top priority in the year ahead.


The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented public health crisis with far-reaching economic consequences as necessary and temporary lockdowns have slowed portions of the Canadian economy. AI has a role to play from helping fight the virus and associated disease to mitigating the economic fallout and eventually helping foster a safe and robust recovery of the Canadian economy.

The AI Advisory Council has provided advice to the Government of Canada on both the opportunities and risks of AI-related innovations in managing the pandemic. This will remain a top priority in the coming year as Canada navigates this uncharted territory.

Other consultations

Over the last year the AI Advisory Council has met with a number of organizations including the CIO Strategy Council, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

In meeting with the CIO Strategy Council, a nationally accredited standards development organization, the AI Advisory Council noted the value of industry standards. They also advised that building public trust in ethical AI requires more than standards and that regulation and legislation have to play a key role. The Advisory Council recommended to the government that transparent, accessible, and inclusive initiatives similar to the Montreal Declaration of Responsible AI are needed for AI to earn the public’s trust.

In February 2020, the Advisory Council met with the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to provide feedback on his office’s proposals on the regulation of AI. The Council discussed multiple components of the Privacy Commissioner’s proposals including: an individual’s right to explanation and increased transparency when they interact with, or are subject to, automated processing; compliance with purpose specification and data minimization principles in an AI context; alternative grounds for processing and solutions to protect privacy when obtaining meaningful consent is not practicable; flexibility in using information that has been rendered non-identifiable with enhanced measures to protect against re-identification; requirements for data and algorithmic traceability; mandatory demonstrable accountability for the development and implementation of AI; and the ability to issue binding orders and levy penalties for the re-identification of anonymized data.

The year ahead 

As the Government of Canada works to harness all its innovative capacity in the fight against COVID-19, the Council will continue to prioritize advising the government on AI in the pandemic response for the foreseeable future.

The Advisory Council also intends to resume its focus on engaging Canadians’ to increase their awareness and understanding of AI technologies in the coming year.

Talent and skills

Maintaining and building on Canada’s impressive pipeline of AI talent will be another focus for the AI Advisory Council in the year ahead. Ensuring that Canadians have the skills to integrate AI into their business operations and manage AI-associated workplace transitions will be critical to ensuring inclusive growth of the Canadian economy. In the next year, the Council will consider initiatives dedicated to this pursuit, ensuring connections are made with existing efforts such as Canada’s Future Skills Council, among other initiatives.

Other key priorities for the Advisory Council will include but not be limited to:

  • The role of AI-related industry standards both domestically and internationally;
  • Building Canadians’ trust in the digital economy through the government’s implementation of Canada’s Digital Charter
  • Sustained participation in Canada’s international AI work, including GPAI and Canada’s positioning in the G7, G20, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and World Economic Forum.