Trudeau government prepares to introduce bill to counter foreign interference

The initial report from the inquiry into foreign interference in Canadian elections finds it's impossible to determine if individual ridings were affected by disinformation, but the overall election results were unaffected.

A foreign agent registry and changes to Canada’s spy agency could be on the way as the Trudeau government is set to introduce legislation as early as next week to further counter foreign interference.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc has put a new bill on the House of Commons notice paper entitled An Act respecting countering foreign interference.

The minister’s office isn’t commenting on what is in the legislation.

“In order to respect parliamentary privilege provisions, we’ll wait until the bill is introduced,” says spokesperson Jean-Sébastien Comeau.

However, Leblanc recently suggested a bill would be introduced “very soon” to set up a foreign agent registry and better empower the spy agency CSIS to combat foreign interference.

“We have announced a broader review of the CSIS Act, for example, how to modernize legislation that gives CSIS certain authorities. This is part of our ongoing effort to strengthen legislation with respect to foreign interference,” he said outside the federal cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

“So I’m confident the foreign influence registry will be part of a broader effort to strengthen legislation with respect to countering foreign interference.

Such a registry would require people trying to influence Canadian politics while working on behalf of a foreign power to register with the government or face penalties. The consequences could include fines or jail time.”

Allies like the United States and Australia already have foreign agent registries.

Opposition parties have been demanding a registry along with diaspora communities, who have been calling for action since 2021.

“The registry seeks to protect transparency, which is key to a health democracy,” says Gloria Fung of the Canadian Coalition for a Foreign Influence Transparency Registry.

“We need the registry as an important first step to address threats and protect our democratic process.”

Fung has warned that action is needed now.

“If the legislation is not up and running before the next election … the interference we experienced in 2019 and 2021 will repeat itself,” she says.

This new bill was put on the notice paper hours after the release of the interim report from the public inquiry examining interference attempts in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

The report confirms foreign interference did take place during the last two campaigns, but did not impact the overall results of the election. However, commissioner Marie-Josee Hogue says foreign meddling may have influenced one riding: British Columbia’s Steveston—Richmond East.

In her report, Hogue says there is a “reasonable possibility” that Conservative Party of Canada candidate Kenny Chiu may have lost the seat due to a foreign interference campaign targeting him.

The commissioner also calls the meddling in the elections a “stain on our electoral process.” She highlights communication problems and a lack of understanding of roles in the government task force that was in place to address any interference attempts during the campaigns.

A final report from the inquiry is due by the end of 2024.

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