Canada should learn from Australia to counter foreign interference, say experts

Canada should learn from Australia to counter foreign interference, say experts

Canada should take inspiration from Australia to counter foreign interference, experts say

Sean Kilpatrick The Canadian Press Justin Trudeau's government has come under pressure in recent weeks to explain what Canada is doing about allegations of Chinese interference in the past two federal elections.

Jim Bronskill – The Canadian Press and David Fraser – The Canadian Press in Ottawa

3:47 p.m.

  • Canada

A former senior civil servant and leading national security researcher says Canada can look to Australia for ideas on how to better manage the threat of foreign interference.

Ottawa should “copy and adhere to Australia's 2018 law that requires people lobbying on behalf of other countries to register with the government, said Michael Wernick, who served as Clerk of the Privy Council from 2016 to 2019.

The detailed public threat assessments of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), Australia's intelligence service, could also serve as a model in Canada for explaining the elements of foreign interference, added Wesley Wark, senior researcher at the Center for International Governance Innovation.

The Liberal government has come under pressure in recent weeks to explain what Canada is doing about allegations of Chinese interference – disclosed in anonymous leaks to media from security sources – in the last two federal elections.

In the normal course of relations, countries will criticize other nations or make decisions that could be harmful, but this is overt behavior that could simply be characterized as “aggressive diplomacy,” Wark pointed out.

Actions cross the threshold of foreign interference when carried out covertly.

A foreign government like China, for example, might try to target diaspora communities to encourage them to take pro-China positions, or silence them with threats, Wark noted.

This could spill over into the electoral arena if Beijing clandestinely encourages a community of Canadians to support candidates who might favor a more pro-China stance or undermine the legitimacy of candidates whose views do not sit well with China.

In addition to passing the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act in 2018, Australia has taken several other steps, including appointing a National Foreign Interference Coordinator and establishing a task force bringing together security and law enforcement agencies to uncover, disrupt and investigate foreign interference activities.

“It would be a good thing if our political parties would come together and deal with this in the national interest”, said Mr. Wernick.

A protocol in place

Under a federal protocol regarding elections, there would be a public announcement if a group of senior officials determined that an incident – or an accumulation of incidents – threatened Canada's ability to hold a free and fair vote.

There was no such announcement regarding the 2019 or 2021 elections. In both cases, the Liberals returned to government with minority mandates while the Conservatives formed the Official Opposition.

< p>A report by former civil servant Morris Rosenberg, released on Tuesday, found that several aspects of the protocol were working well in 2021. However, he flagged communication as one of the areas for improvement.

“Many comments were made on the need for an early announcement to clearly communicate to Canadians and the media the threat, the integrated plan in place to deal with it, and the role of the Protocol and Panel of Experts as part of this plan,” the report states.

Lack of transparency

Federal agencies, including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service , have shown no willingness to be truly open and transparent about the threats facing the country, according to Wesley Wark.

“They still don't see it as their business, informing the public,” the researcher said. So we get drip reports, but nothing really substantial and nothing systematic.

In comparison, the head of Australia's ASIO gives an annual speech outlining these threats.

In his most recent speech, delivered last month, Chief Security Officer Mike Burgess said Australia faces an unprecedented challenge of espionage and foreign interference “and I am not convinced that we, as a nation, fully understand the damage it is inflicting on Australia's security, democracy, sovereignty, economy and social fabric”.

“The year Last, we identified several spies from multiple countries developing and trying to leverage relationships with government officials, bank employees, doctors, police employees, and other professions to obtain the personal details of suspected dissidents. »

He also provided details of two recent plots of foreign interference, saying the two were arrested “before any harm could be done”.

Real damage ?

There is an “important distinction” between a foreign state's intentions and capabilities, “which I think has completely disappeared in this current hype about Chinese election interference,” said noted Mr. Wark.

Leaked intelligence about China's intention to intervene in Canadian elections does not necessarily reveal anything about what damage, if any, has actually been This may cast doubt on both the loyalty of the Chinese diaspora community and people's ability to make up their own minds in the political sphere, Wark added.

“Both of these suggestions are deeply undemocratic and actually serve Chinese purposes in a way that I think is not subject to any comments. »