Sean Kilpatrick The Canadian Press The committee, made up of five very senior officials, found that there had been attempts at foreign interference that had not reached the threshold required to inform Canadians.
The committee set up by Ottawa to inform Canadians in the event of threats to the 2021 federal election concludes that the protocol has worked well overall, but that the public should be informed more about what these senior officials would consider to be a source of concern.
Former senior civil servant Morris Rosenberg, responsible for writing the report evaluating the work of this “Public Protocol in the event of a major electoral incident”, published on Tuesday, also makes several recommendations for the future of this special committee.
The committee, made up of five very senior federal officials, was created in 2019 to monitor federal election threats — after Russian maneuvers in the 2016 U.S. election. Under the Protocol, if a threat were to reach a certain threshold , the committee may notify Canadians.
Mr. Rosenberg writes in the most recent report that the committee did not find there was interference on the scale of the Russian maneuvers in Canada, either in 2019 or 2021.
But the committee also found that there had been attempts at foreign interference that fell short of the threshold required to notify Canadians. Mr. Rosenberg writes that such an announcement would have been made if the members had determined that there was a threat “to Canada's ability to hold free and fair elections.” He clarified that such an announcement would constitute a “measure of last resort”, to be invoked “only in the most serious cases”.
He also recommends clearer communication with Canadians on the task of this committee. The report also recommends “further consideration of whether the Protocol should be amended to provide for the possibility of an announcement being made even if the established criteria” are not met.
Committee members also found that there was “domestic interference” during the 2021 campaign, including threats of violence and misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. The September 2021 snap elections were held during the pandemic.
The report also recommends that in view of the upcoming federal election, there should be an assessment of whether the security details surrounding party leaders and various police forces are capable of handling the “level and persistence of threats”.
It is also recommended that national security agencies develop a program of “unclassified briefings” to educate MPs and Senators on foreign interference and election interference. Some lawmakers have called for it in recent months.
Security agencies should tell lawmakers about election interference and what steps they can take to protect themselves and their information online, writes Ms. . Rosenberg.
The report is filed more than 17 months after the September 2021 election.
Reports in recent weeks have alleged foreign interference by China in the election from 2019 and 2021, which has led to increased interest in the work of this Public Protocol in the event of a major electoral incident and called for greater transparency on threats.
This committee is comprised of the National Security and Intelligence Advisor to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Ministers of Justice, Public Safety and Foreign Affairs, as well as the Clerk of the Privy Council — the big boss of the entire federal public service, who is also the Deputy Minister of the Prime minister.