In an effort to counter foreign interference in Canada, legislation that would mandate people who act on behalf of foreign governments, political organizations, or corporations to register as foreign agents was introduced in the House of Commons on April 13.
Bill C-282, an Act to Establish the Foreign Influence Registry, seeks to impose “an obligation on individuals acting on behalf of a foreign principal to file a return when they undertake specific actions with respect to public office holders.”
These individuals could be fined or jailed should they fail to “file a return as required” or if they knowingly make false or misleading statements in any return filed under the act.
“We are all aware of the instances of foreign interference in Canada and the threat of further intimidation and corruption. For years, we have heard the dangers of such foreign interference, cautioned by Canada’s National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians and Canadian Security Intelligence Service,” Conservative MP Kenny Chiu said upon introducing the bill.
“Beyond calls for action and attention, the government has suggested no other plan to counter interference operations.”
“This bill is only the first step in improving domestic safety measures, Chiu added, noting that it was the efforts of Australia, one of Canada’s Five Eyes allies, to address its problems with foreign interference that inspired him to craft the bill.
— In the Chamber (@HoCChamber) April 13, 2021
In 2018, the Australian government passed the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act to counter Chinese influence-spreading activities in the country’s political, media, and academic institutions.
In December 2017, then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the new laws were required to combat the “rapidly escalating” threat of foreign interference. He referred to “disturbing reports about Chinese influence” as justification for the bill.
“Media reports have suggested that the Chinese Communist Party has been working to covertly interfere with our media, our universities, and even the decisions of elected representatives right here in this building,” Turnbull said in Parliament at the time.
“We take these reports very seriously.”
Under Australia’s act, people working for foreign countries are to register as foreign agents and could face criminal prosecution if they are independently deemed to be meddling in Canberra’s affairs.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has warned of increasing threats by foreign state actors against Canada’s national security. Director David Vigneault said in the agency’s annual report published on April 12 that in 2020, “CSIS observed espionage and foreign interference activity at levels not seen since the Cold War.”
Vigneault’s warnings echo those of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, a special parliamentary committee that published a separate report the same day.
“The threat from espionage and foreign interference is significant and continues to grow. Several states are responsible for conducting such activities in Canada, but intelligence shows that China and Russia remain the primary culprits,” the report reads.
“Though the effects of espionage and foreign interference are not as readily apparent as those of terrorism, they are the most significant long-term threats to Canada’s sovereignty and prosperity.”
The CSIS report details how China and Russia conduct espionage and interference activities in Canada’s public and private sectors.
“While federal, provincial, and municipal levels of Canadian government are of interest, foreign states such as the People’s Republic of China and Russia also target non-governmental organizations in Canada—including academic institutions, the private sector, and civil society,” the report says.
“In 2020, the People’s Republic of China, Russia, and other foreign states continued to covertly gather political, economic, and military information in Canada through targeted threat activities in support of their own state development goals.”
CSIS also found that foreign state actors continue to use their resources and relationships with private entities to “conduct clandestine, deceptive, or threatening foreign interference activities in Canada” to influence government policy or advance their political agendas. The report cites how threat actors associated with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) exploit the openness and freedom in Canada society to further the regime’s political interests on Canadian soil.
In addition, the spy agency noted how foreign powers have covertly monitored and intimidated various Canadian communities to achieve their strategic and economic objectives.
“When engaging in such activities, foreign states target members of vulnerable communities and groups who often lack the means to protect themselves. These communities often fear state-backed or state-linked retribution targeting both themselves and possibly their loved ones in Canada and abroad,” the report says.
It says the “harassment, manipulation, or intimidation” tactics used by the foreign actors to garner support or silence the criticism from the community groups of their policies constitute a threat to the sovereignty of Canada and the safety of Canadians.
On March 27, Beijing sanctioned Conservative MP Michael Chong and the Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights, of which Chiu is the vice-chair, in retaliation for the sanctions Canada and the United States had imposed on Chinese officials and entities for their involvement in the abuse of Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. Beijing accused the two countries of basing their decisions on “rumors and disinformation” and interfering in internal affairs.
In an interview with NTD Television, an Epoch Times affiliate media, Chiu said the CCP lacks the confidence to tolerate any criticism. He also stressed that the CCP does not represent the Chinese people as they were already a highly developed culture for thousands of years, long before the communist regime came into power in 1949.
“The Communist Party was actually something that was introduced, imported into China, from Germany, from USSR, from Russia. And this is a foreign entity that’s only been on Chinese soil for, I think, 100 years,” he said.
“The Chinese Communist Party does not equate Chinese and definitely cannot be equated to Chinese culture, Chinese history,” Chiu said, adding that the CCP also doesn’t represent the Chinese diaspora.
“By no means do they actually represent the Chinese people around the world, including in Canada, or in the United States of America, or elsewhere in the world.”
With reporting by Janita Kan and Andrew Chen.