May 17th, 2024

Foreign influence registry among proposed tools in bill to counter interference

By Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press on May 6, 2024.

A copy of the interim report is seen on a table following its release at the Public Inquiry Into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions, in Ottawa, Friday, May 3, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – Newly tabled legislation to fight interference from abroad would bolster criminal provisions, open the door to broader sharing of sensitive information and establish a foreign influence transparency registry.

The Liberal government introduced the bill Monday in the House of Commons, saying it would better equip authorities to detect, disrupt and protect against foreign meddling.

The legislation would create new, targeted foreign interference offences as well as a sabotage offence focused on conduct directed at essential infrastructure.

The bill would also allow Canada’s spy agency to disclose sensitive information beyond the halls of government to build resiliency against foreign meddling.

States might engage in interference to advance foreign political goals, and can employ people to act on their behalf without disclosing ties to the foreign state.

The new foreign influence transparency registry would require certain individuals to register with the federal government to help guard against such activity.

The bill comes just days after a federal commission of inquiry found foreign interference from China, India, Russia or others did not affect the overall results of the 2019 and 2021 general elections.

In an interim report Friday, commissioner Marie-Jos̩e Hogue said it was possible Рbut not certain Рthat outcomes in a small number of ridings were affected by meddling.

Overall, Hogue concluded that interference from abroad had undermined public confidence in Canadian democracy, saying it was perhaps the greatest harm Canada had experienced.

The Business Council of Canada applauded the bill, saying the Canadian Security Intelligence Service would be able to communicate more specific and tangible information with Canadian companies.

“This would give business leaders a clearer understanding of the growing threat, as well as the protective measures that could be taken to better safeguard their employees, customers and the communities in which they operate,” said council president Goldy Hyder.

More needs to be done to address foreign interference, especially actions that involve threats or lead to actual harm, said the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, a coalition of 45 organizations including Amnesty International, the Council of Canadians, and the Canadian Muslim Forum.

However, many of the proposals in the bill go far beyond addressing foreign interference and will have wide-ranging impacts on the rights and liberties of people in Canada, the monitoring group said.

This includes significant changes to CSIS’s powers to secretly collect and analyze troves of information about Canadians, what information CSIS can disclose and to whom, and new rules around what evidence can be disclosed in open court, the group said.

“These and other changes deserve their own specific scrutiny but instead are being lumped in with another omnibus bill.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2024.

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