Canada faces ‘few greater challenges’ than foreign interference, minister says – National

Ottawa is opening up public consultations for a long-awaited foreign agents registry on Friday as the minister running them acknowledged that the challenge posed to the country by foreign interference is significant.

After being tasked to do so earlier this week, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters in Ottawa that consultations on a “foreign influence transparency registry” will be held until May 9.

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As the government probes the idea, Mendicino said he hopes consultations will increase transparency around illegitimate foreign state lobbying and activities, modernize existing legislative authorities and engage Canadians in protecting democratic institutions.

“There are few greater challenges that we face than foreign interference. Countering this threat, protecting the safety of Canadians and maintaining our national sovereignty are my paramount objectives as minister of public safety,” he said.

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“Foreign hostile actors have targeted Canada. While those threats are not new, they have evolved and as they have evolved, so too have we stepped up our efforts to protect Canadians.”

Click to play video: 'Joly discusses expulsion process of diplomats, as NDP raises reports of election interference'

Joly discusses expulsion process of diplomats, as NDP raises reports of election interference

Mendicino added consultations have begun online, and that he will be participating in roundtable discussions in the coming weeks. It was not immediately clear how long it would take to establish a foreign agents registry after the consultations wrap up.

The minister was tasked on Monday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to launch public consultations on setting up a new public registry for agents who work on behalf of foreign states, like ones put in place by Canada’s allies.

For example, Australia’s public registry requires people advocating for a foreign state to register their activities, under penalty of fines or jail time. The United States has a similar program.

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Click to play video: 'Beijing is an ‘existential threat’ to Canada, Liberal MP says amid interference probes'

Beijing is an ‘existential threat’ to Canada, Liberal MP says amid interference probes

Trudeau, who has been under pressure to call a public inquiry into the allegations, announced on Monday a slew of investigations into the matter. Instead of calling an inquiry himself on Monday, Trudeau said that decision will be made by an independent, special rapporteur who will have a “wide mandate” to oversee the new probes, and that his government will abide by the rapporteur’s recommendations.

That individual, who will be named in the coming days, will also make recommendations on how Ottawa can better combat foreign interference and inform the public about such attempts.

The prime minister also said he spoke to the heads of both the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) and the independent National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) and urged them to undertake “urgent work” within their mandates to study foreign interference.

NSICOP includes MPs from multiple parties, as well as one senator. NSIRA, made up of independent experts, is tasked with reviewing the actions of Canada’s intelligence agencies. It said Wednesday it has begun its investigation.

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Both NSICOP and NSIRA are given access to classified and top-secret intelligence information that bars them from doing their work in public. NSICOP files a report from its work that then goes to the Prime Minister’s Office, which can redact any information in that report before it is tabled in the House of Commons. NSIRA will also provide a public report of its assessments of the actions taken by government bodies handling intelligence on the matter of foreign interference.

Mendicino was also tasked Monday to establish “a counter-foreign interference coordinator” to oversee the work, and recommendations coming from various agencies and committees.

The Liberal government has been under immense pressure to explain what it knew about foreign interference in the 2021 election after the Globe and Mail reported last month that intelligence sources said China attempted to interfere in that campaign to help the Liberals win another minority government.

That report came after months of revelations from Global News about allegations of Chinese interference in the 2019 election.

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