Ottawa Is Failing to Meet Legal Obligations to Protect Victims of Transnational Repression: Report

Ottawa Is Failing to Meet Legal Obligations to Protect Victims of Transnational Repression: Report
A Chinese flag is illuminated in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 22, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Andrew Chen

The federal government has not adequately addressed transnational repression by China, Russia, Iran, and other actors targeting those who seek refuge in Canada, according to a human rights report.

Failing to do so puts Canada in violation of both its domestic law and its international obligations said the report, released this month by Secure Canada and Human Rights Action Group.

The report delves into methods used by those regimes to project influence beyond their borders to suppress their diaspora communities, dissident groups, or individuals from diverse ethnic or religious backgrounds seeking refuge from persecution. Notably, the report highlights Canada’s obligation as a host country in safeguarding immigrants and refugees who have faced transnational repression and foreign interference.

“Canada is legally obligated to protect people within its borders against certain human rights violations arising from incidents of transnational repression and there are legal frameworks and mechanisms available to Canada at the international and domestic levels to combat such incidents,” the report said. “Despite this, the Canadian government has yet to sufficiently respond.”

It noted that this failure “could put Canada in violation of its international legal obligations” as well as fall foul of its domestic laws.

Specifically, the report underscores Canada’s failure to uphold obligations set out in international law such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Refugee Convention. Many of these rights find expression in the Canadian Charter, including the right to life, protection from torture and inhumane treatment, and the right to liberty and security.

The report, titled “Combatting Transnational Repression and Foreign Interference in Canada,” was co-authored by international human rights lawyers Sarah Teich, David Matas, and Hannah Taylor. It was endorsed by nine Canadian diaspora organizations.


The report made reference to a 2021 study by Freedom House, a Washington-based advocacy group dedicated to civil rights. The study identified China as orchestrating “the most sophisticated, global, and comprehensive campaign of transnational repression in the world.”

The authors of the Secure Canada report underscored three distinct traits of the interference campaign initiated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). First, the regime targets various ethnic and religious groups, including Falun Gong adherents, Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Hong Kongers. Additionally, the scope of its oppression extends to the targeting of political dissidents, human rights activists, journalists, and former insiders accused of corruption.

The CCP’s campaign comprises a broad spectrum of tactics, including espionage, renditions, physical assaults, cyber threats, and coercion by proxy. The campaign’s breadth is unparalleled, the report said.

The report’s release coincides with the launching of a public inquiry into foreign interference in Canada. Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue has been appointed to lead the inquiry to begin on Sept. 18. Justice Hogue faces a tight timeline. She is required to deliver an interim report by the end of February 2024 and a final report later the same year in December.

Foreign interference has been an issue in Canada for some time and has prompted calls from the national intelligence agency for government action, the authors said. They cited the 2020 Annual Report of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, which emphasized that “foreign interference activities pose a significant risk to national security, primarily by undermining Canada’s fundamental institutions and eroding the rights and freedoms of Canadians.”

The public inquiry comes after several months of media reports on Chinese foreign interference, including a series of secret police stations under the CCP’s operational jurisdiction in Canada and dozens of other countries. Reports that cite national security sources and documents have also revealed Beijing’s targeting of Canadian politicians critical of the regime, including Conservative MP Michael Chong and NDP MP Jenny Kwan. Politicians at the municipal level of government have also reportedly been targeted.
“Despite warnings, the Canadian government has been slow to act,” the authors said.


To address the government’s alleged inadequate response, the study’s authors made 37 recommendations aimed at countering foreign interference and transnational repression within Canada.

The authors highlighted the need for Canada to establish clear and official definitions of “transnational repression” and “foreign interference.” Presently, these terms are inconsistently defined within Canadian law. Authors suggest uniform definitions be adopted and consistently applied across all government agencies.

The report recommends Canada establish a centrally coordinated government agency dedicated to addressing transnational repression. The agency would organize and facilitate cooperation between various government agencies to ensure a comprehensive and effective response. Canada should also assign a “Commissioner of Foreign Influence” who would receive complaints, including violations by foreign embassies and consulates, and submit annual reports.

In terms of report mechanisms, the report authors suggest the government provide a dedicated hotline so those facing intimidation can seek assistance and enable a coordinated response to and tracking of such incidents.

In addition, the report advocated for the comprehensive review and modernization of various Canadian laws to ensure legal tools necessary to address transnational repression remain current. These laws include the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, the Security of Information Act, the Lobbying Act, and the Canada Elections Act.

Furthermore, the authors advocate for the criminalization of “refugee espionage” in reference to foreign governments that spy on refugees who have resettled in Canada. They also recommend the creation of a specific civil cause of action to facilitate diaspora groups’ ability to sue foreign governments or their agents in Canada.

The report emphasizes the importance of training law enforcement officers and university campus security personnel to recognize and address instances of transnational repression. It also advocates for targeted sanctions on foreign officials or entities engaged in transnational repression.