Canadian officials knew for years existing laws didn’t curb foreign influence


Canadian officials have known for years that the country’s existing laws did not cover foreign governments’ interference in domestic politics, documents reviewed by Global News suggest

The documents were unearthed just as Canada’s public safety minister said the government was looking at ways to beef up its defence against foreign influence in domestic affairs.

December 2020 emails at Global Affairs Canada, obtained by Global News under access to information law, state that officials were aware that some types of foreign influence in Canadian politics slipped through the cracks of existing laws. Examples in the documents include foreign investment in university research, as well as “communications activities” to promote foreign agendas.

Canadian intelligence officials and Parliament’s national security committee have cautioned for years that foreign governments – most notably China, Russia, and Iran – are actively trying to influence Canadian affairs. Some of this activity is overt, while other influence operations remain in the shadows.

The documents reviewed by Global News were part of preparations for a House of Commons speech by former Global Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne on the issue of Chinese interference in Canadian politics.

The speech, drafted for a December late debate in the House of Commons at the prompting of the opposition Conservatives, originally suggested existing laws were sufficient to curb foreign influence. But an objection from a foreign affairs bureaucrat – their name was censored in the documents – cautioned that wasn’t true.

“There are several situations not covered by the Lobbying Act and the Conflict of Interest Act, such as for instance an agent undertaking communication activity or engaging in a big disbursement of activities on behalf of a foreign government,” the email reads.

“Some of these activities would be covered if happening under election periods by the Canada Elections Act, but foreign interference is not limited to those periods.”

The official gave the example of foreign powers funding university research “in order to promote certain narratives or muzzle others.” Canada’s intelligence agencies – including the Canadians Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) – have recently dramatically increased their partnerships with university research institutions, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis.

Source: Canadian officials knew for years existing laws didn’t curb foreign influence

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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