January 31, 2023

OTTAWA — The federal government is preparing to consult the public about the possible establishment of a foreign agent registry to deter outside interference in Canadian affairs, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says.

OTTAWA — The federal government is preparing to consult the public about the possible establishment of a foreign agent registry to deter outside interference in Canadian affairs, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says.

The Liberals want to hear from experts and the wider public – including members of affected communities – on whether they should follow the example of key allies, including the United States and Australia, in establishing a register.

The Government recognizes that foreign governments and organizations routinely attempt to influence Canadian politics, officials and democratic processes in a visible and legal manner – for example, through diplomatic channels.

Some states, on the other hand, intervene to advance foreign policy goals. As part of that effort, they could hire people to act on their behalf without disclosing ties to the foreign state, Public Safety Canada says.

Requiring these individuals to officially register with the government they are trying to influence can make such deals more transparent, with the possibility of fines or even jail time for non-compliance.

“The fact is that the landscape of foreign interference is becoming increasingly complex,” Mendicino said in an interview.

Mendicino’s role in Cabinet includes supporting an integrated government response to protect Canada’s democratic institutions, including the federal election process, from foreign interference and disinformation.

“One of the proposals that we are looking at very carefully is the establishment of a foreign agent registry,” he said.

“We hope to have more to say on that in the near future. But we’re really looking forward to going out and getting good advice.”

While no date has been set, a public consultation is expected to begin in the coming weeks.

The UK recently introduced legislation creating the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme to compel those acting for a foreign power or entity to report political influence or face criminal penalties.

Australia introduced its Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act four years ago, while the US Foreign Agent Registry Act has been in effect since 1938.

Mendicino said the idea of ​​a foreign agent registry required “careful and thoughtful study” to see how it might fit into a broader strategy to ensure police and national security agencies have the tools to counter foreign interference, cyberattacks, and more and other hostile activities, and ideologically motivated extremism, which can spread through the spread of disinformation.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service warned last year that it saw steady, and in some cases increasing, foreign interference by state actors against Canada.

Federal officials have long warned that Canada is being targeted by foreign states like China and Russia who try to advance their political, economic and security interests.

In a Nov. 28 letter to the Commons Committee on Procedures and House Affairs, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said the Mounties were aware of interference by foreign actors over a wide range of activities, including interference in democratic processes.

Lucki said the RCMP has ongoing investigations into such activity but gave no details as the probes are still ongoing.

Mendicino said that while the government is moving forward with a Canadian-developed strategy to counter foreign interference, it is equally important that Ottawa work with allies around the world by sharing information and intelligence and working on best practices.

This would help protect Canadian interests and “uphold the international rules-based order,” he said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 2, 2022.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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