Ottawa opens public consultations on Friday for a long-awaited register of foreign agents, as the minister leading them acknowledged that the challenge posed to the country by foreign interference is significant.
After being instructed to do so earlier this week, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters in Ottawa that consultations on a “foreign influence transparency register” would be held until May 9. .
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As the government considers the idea, Mendicino said he hopes the consultations will increase transparency regarding lobbying and activities of illegitimate foreign states, modernize existing legislative authorities and inspire Canadians to protect democratic institutions.
“There are few greater challenges facing us than foreign interference. Countering this threat, protecting the safety of Canadians and maintaining our national sovereignty are my overriding objectives as Minister of Public Safety,” he said.
“Hostile foreign actors have targeted Canada. While these threats are not new, they have evolved, and as they have evolved, we have also intensified our efforts to protect Canadians.
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Mendicino added that consultations have begun online and he will participate in roundtables in the coming weeks. It was not immediately clear how long it would take to establish a register of foreign agents after the close of consultations.
The minister was instructed Monday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to launch public consultations on the establishment of a new public registry of agents who work on behalf of foreign states, like those set up by Canada’s allies.
For example, the Australian Public Registry requires people defending a foreign state to register their activities, or face fines or jail time. The United States has a similar program.
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Trudeau, who has come under pressure to call for a public inquiry into the allegations, announced a series of inquiries into the matter on Monday. Instead of calling an inquiry himself on Monday, Trudeau said the decision would be made by an independent special rapporteur who would have an “extensive mandate” to oversee new inquiries, and that his government would respect the rapporteur’s recommendations.
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This person, who will be appointed in the coming days, will also make recommendations on how Ottawa can better combat foreign interference and inform the public of such attempts.
The Prime Minister also said he had spoken with the heads of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) and the Independent National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) and had urged them to undertake “urgent work” as part of their term to study abroad. interference.
The NSICOP includes deputies from several parties, as well as a senator. The NSIRA, made up of independent experts, is responsible for reviewing the actions of Canada’s intelligence agencies. He said Wednesday he had begun his investigation.
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Both NSICOP and NSIRA have access to secret and classified information that prevents them from doing their jobs in public. NSICOP tables a report on its work which is then forwarded to the Prime Minister’s Office, which may redact any information contained in this report before it is tabled in the House of Commons. The OSSNR will also provide a public report of its assessments of the actions taken by government intelligence agencies on the issue of foreign interference.
Mendicino was also tasked on Monday with establishing “an anti-foreign interference coordinator” to oversee the work and recommendations coming from various bodies and committees.
The Liberal government has come under immense pressure to explain what it knows about foreign interference in the 2021 election after The Globe and Mail reported last month that intelligence sources said China had tried to interfere in this campaign to help the Liberals win another minority government.
The report came after months of revelations from Global News about alleged Chinese interference in the 2019 election.
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