The Trudeau government is preparing a bill to combat foreign interference

The first report of the inquiry into foreign interference in Canada’s elections found that it was impossible to determine whether individual demonstrations were influenced by disinformation, but the overall election results were unaffected.

A registry for foreign agents and changes to Canada’s spy agency could be on the way, as the Trudeau government is set to introduce legislation as early as next week to further crack down on foreign interference.

Public Safety Secretary Dominic LeBlanc has placed a new bill on the House notice sheet, titled An Act on Combating Foreign Interference.

The minister’s office does not comment on what is in the legislation.

“To respect parliamentary privilege provisions, we will wait until the bill is introduced,” said spokesman Jean-Sébastien Comeau.

However, Leblanc recently suggested that a bill would be introduced “very soon” to set up a registry for foreign agents and better enable the CSIS spy agency to combat foreign interference.

“We have announced a wider review of the CSIS Act, for example on how to modernize the legislation that gives CSIS certain powers. This is part of our ongoing efforts to strengthen laws regarding foreign interference,” he said outside the federal cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

“I am therefore convinced that the Register of Foreign Influence will be part of a broader effort to strengthen legislation against foreign interference.

Such a registry would require people who try to influence Canadian politics while working on behalf of a foreign power to register with the government or face penalties. The consequences could include fines or imprisonment.”

Allies such as the United States and Australia already have registers of foreign agents.

Opposition parties are demanding registration together with diaspora communities, who have been calling for action since 2021.

“The registry seeks to protect transparency, which is essential to a health democracy,” said Gloria Fung of the Canadian Coalition for a Foreign Influence Transparency Registry.

“We need the registry as an important first step to address threats and protect our democratic process.”

Fung has warned that action is needed now.

“If the legislation does not come into force before the next election… the interference we experienced in 2019 and 2021 will be repeated,” she said.

This new bill was placed on the note a few hours after the publication of the interim report of the public inquiry into interference attempts in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

The report confirms that foreign interference occurred during the last two campaigns, but that it did not affect the overall election results. However, Commissioner Marie-Josee Hogue says foreign interference may have affected one riding: Steveston-Richmond East in British Columbia.

In her report, Hogue says there is a “reasonable possibility” that Conservative Party of Canada candidate Kenny Chiu lost the seat as a result of a foreign interference campaign targeting him.

The commissioner also calls the interference in the elections a ‘stain on our electoral process’. She points to communication problems and a lack of understanding of the role of the government task force set up to tackle any interference attempts during the campaigns.

A final report of the investigation is expected at the end of 2024.