The Government of Canada defines foreign interference (FI) as malign activities undertaken by foreign states, or those acting on their behalf, to advance their own strategic objectives to the detriment of Canada’s national interests. These activities target Canada, Canadians or Canadian interests and are covert, deceptive, threatening and/or illegal and threaten all levels of government, the private sector, academia, diaspora communities and the general public.
FI poses one of the greatest strategic threats to Canada’s national security because it can undermine Canadian sovereignty and social cohesion, diminish Canadians’ trust in our institutions, and degrade the rights and freedoms to which all Canadians are entitled. Two examples include:
threats, harassment or intimidation by foreign states, or those acting on their behalf, against anyone in Canada, Canadian communities, or their loved ones abroad; and
targeting officials in different Canadian jurisdictions to influence public policy and decision-making in a way that is covert, deceptive or threatening.
Foreign partners regularly seek to influence the decisions we make as a country, just as Canada seeks to influence the decisions of others. Foreign partners generally use legitimate and transparent means to advocate their interests, such as lobbying, political dialogue, trade negotiations and diplomacy. However, some foreign governments cross the line from standard, legitimate activities into foreign interference when they seek to exert influence in non-transparent ways. This concept is known as malign foreign influence, a subset of the broader threat posed by FI. When not addressed, these activities can have serious implications for Canadian interests, national security and our democratic processes and institutions.
The Government of Canada takes the threat posed by FI seriously and has various tools and mechanisms in place to protect individuals and Canada’s interests. These include efforts to safeguard federal elections, mechanisms available to the public to report suspected incidents of FI, as well as criminal investigations into crimes such as intimidation or bribery and the coordination of responses and information sharing with like-minded partners and allies. FI is a complex threat that requires a multi-faceted response.
As an advanced economy and an open and free democracy, Canada is targeted by foreign states seeking to advance their economic, technological, political, and military goals to the detriment of Canada. Prevention is an important line of defence against these activities and existing measures include:
engaging directly with foreign states that perpetuate threats to Canadian interests to promote respect for the international rules-based order and to deter any hostile activities;
engaging with at-risk stakeholders that may be targeted by foreign actors, such as various communities, the private sector and academia to inform them of threats and to help them better understand how to protect their work;
helping critical infrastructure operators protect critical cyber security systems that Canadians rely on, including the introduction of Bill C-26 in June 2022; and
enhancing citizen resilience to disinformation by helping Canadians to become better informed about disinformation tactics and actors through a recent investment of $5.5 million to create the Canadian Digital Media Research Network and the Digital Citizen Initiative which supports a community of Canadian researchers by providing financial assistance for research and citizen-focused activities.
As the threat environment evolves, Canada must ensure that its security, intelligence, and law enforcement community has the required tools to take action. Protection measures include:
equipping law enforcement and intelligence agencies to investigate threats and engage with at-risk groups and sectors, including $48.9 million over three years in Budget 2023 to the RCMP to protect Canadians from harassment and intimidation, increase its investigative capacity, and more proactively engage with communities at greater risk of being targeted;
coordinating and sharing information with Five Eyes, and other allies, such as G7 and NATO on foreign interference and other national security threats;
issuing a ministerial directive to reinforce the Government’s expectation that parliamentarians are informed to the extent possible of threats to themselves and their families, and that the Minister of Public Safety is kept fully informed of these threats and actions taken in response;
providing mechanisms for citizens to report instances of foreign interference through the CSIS, RCMP, and CSE websites and national security threat phone lines 1-800-420-5805 (RCMP), 1-800-267-7685 (CSIS), 1-833-292-3788 (CSE); and
protecting electoral processes through the Plan to Protect Canada’s Democracy, which includes the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) Task Force, the G7 Rapid Response Mechanism, and the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol, which is a mechanism to publicly communicate with Canadians regarding an incident or a series of incidents that threaten Canada’s ability to have a free and fair election.
Accountability is the cornerstone of trust, and Canadians rightly expect that government institutions will learn from the findings of our review bodies who are examining the issue of foreign interference. Accountability and review measures include:
Creating the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA), made up of top independent experts, to strengthen independent scrutiny and national security accountability in Canada. The NSIRA independently reviews all Government of Canada national security and intelligence activities to ensure they are lawful, reasonable, and necessary, and provides recommendations to the Government of Canada;
Creating the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), made up of Members of Parliament from each party and Senators with top-secret security clearance to review national security and intelligence activities across the Government of Canada, modelled on similar international approaches. In 2019, the NSICOP completed a review of foreign interference in Canada and published it in their 2019 annual report;
Canada’s criminal justice system, which plays an important role in ensuring the overall safety and security of Canadians. Where persons in Canada engage in foreign interference activities that would constitute an offence under the Security of Information Act, the Criminal Code or other laws, they could face criminal prosecution.
Transparency is the means by which the Government of Canada can shed light on foreign interference threats and how we are dealing with them. Transparency measures include:
The Government of Canada will continue to strengthen the measures already in place, to work with non-federal stakeholders, including different jurisdictions, members of the public, the private sector and academia, to address evolving threats.
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