Committee urges creation of Foreign Agent Registry to counter foreign interference

According to a February 1986 intelligence report, China/Canada: Interference in the Chinese Canadian Community, Canadian intelligence has known of Chinese interference preceding the collapse of the Soviet Union. Beijing has used open political tactics and secret operations to influence and exploit the Chinese diaspora in Canada.

Committee urges creation of Foreign Agent Registry to counter foreign interference
Facebook/ Kenny Chiu, Facebook/ Justin Trudeau, and Facebook/ Michael Chong
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Findings in a lengthy foreign interference study released Tuesday advised the federal government to act with haste and legislate a foreign agent registry once and for all.

"The creation of a foreign influence registry has been proposed many times in recent years, but no bill has been passed," it noted. Allied countries, it continued, have established them [foreign agent registries]. The U.S. established a FARA – a Foreign Agent Registration Act – in 1938. 

Introduced in 1982, the Foreign Missions Act is complementary legislation used to protect the vital national security interests of the American people. 

Numerous entities, for example, such as China News Service, Xinhua News, and People’s Daily are registered as foreign missions south of the border, meeting the threshold for the Foreign Missions Act. Such entities are "substantially owned or effectively controlled" by a foreign government, including the People’s Daily – the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

No such registration exists in Canada, permitting the outlets to operate freely without disclosing their activities. There have been indications that such outlets are implicated in propaganda and 'disinformation' campaigns against Canadians on Canadian soil.

Global People Magazine – a publication put out by the People’s Daily Press - shared 'disinformation' against outspoken China critic and Conservative MP Michael Chong earlier this year after Global Affairs Canada’s Rapid Response Mechanism detected unusual activity while monitoring elections. 

Rebel News traced the campaign targeting the politician through WeChat channels back to the official account of the outlet.

Consultations on a foreign agent registry launched in March this year, with Senator Leo Housakos tabling Bill S-237 the month prior. Private member's bill S-237 would "require anyone with ties to an organization that could be under the direction" of foreign governments to register their position as a prerequisite for contacting Canadian officials.

On May 9, Public Safety Canada completed public consultations on needing a foreign registry to counter election interference. On May 17, the all-party Commons special committee on Canada-China relations recommended the introduction of a foreign registry.

"The government has announced its intention to introduce a bill,” read the report, Foreign Interference and the Threats to the Integrity of Democratic Institutions, Intellectual Property and the Canadian State. Yet, the bill remains in limbo as of writing, with no insight into why the feds are dragging their feet.

During a Canada-China Relations committee hearing in February, then Public Minister Marco Mendicino was questioned on why safeguard measures had been implemented.

"I wouldn’t describe it as a hesitation; I think we need to be diligent and thoughtful and inclusive, when it comes to bringing all Canadians along in the modernization of the tools and the arsenal that we create for our national security and intelligence communities," he said, failing to deliver a timeline on a foreign registry.

In September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also received questions on Bloomberg concerning his failure to act.

"This is a complex issue with no easy answers," he said. "And a lot of people have [said] 'if we get a foreign agent registry, suddenly everything will be simply simpler, and easy to do.'"

"It hasn't solved everything in places it's been brough in," he claimed.

However, critics of the registry, including Independent Senator Yuen Pau Woo, complained it would further "extreme anti-China sentiment" following the expulsion of a Chinese diplomat, Wei Zhao, who targeted Chong and his family abroad.

"Our better instincts have been compromised by the extreme anti-China sentiment that has spilled over into the toxic stigmatization of Canadians who are associated with the People's Republic of China because of their ancestry, business ties or professional interests," Woo wrote in an Ottawa periodical Policy Options magazine on May 16.

"The recent media reporting of anonymous and unsubstantiated 'intelligence' reports has created a frenzy of innuendo against Chinese Canadian politicians, scholars and community leaders, all in the name of national security," he added. 

The leaked, top-secret CSIS reports uncovered that China had used 'disinformation' campaigns, undeclared cash donations, and international students to volunteer for preferred Liberal candidates. Chinese diplomats and their proxies actively worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered "hostile" towards Beijing during the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

The media leaks from anonymous security sources prompted CSIS to investigate who leaked highly classified information on Chinese election interference then.

The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics recently urged stronger penalties against "leakers" and government whistleblowers. "The Government of Canada [needs to] strengthen rules and penalties governing illicit disclosure of national security intelligence,” it said.

"Leaks in general should be targeted," Bloc Québécois MP René Villemure told reporters October 24. "This is a serious offence to national security."

Despite the overly harsh tone generally taken towards whistleblowers in the report, Villemure, who serves as vice-chair of the committee, admitted that while security breaches are concerning, they proved helpful on foreign interference.

While Woo did not refer to Zhao, he urged Canadians to sign a Commons petition against a registry of foreign agents, reported Blacklock's ReporterPetition 4395 states a registry "poses a serious harassment and stigmatization risk for racialized communities" that may be unconstitutional.

"It could also create a chill within vulnerable communities leading them to withdraw from civic engagement and public service," reads the petition.

At the same time, national security experts referenced in the study said a registry is an 'imperfect tool' with limited usefulness, they reached the conclusion that Canada should have one. "The committee recognizes that a foreign influence registry cannot be established with the view that it will solve all interference problems," wrote the members, but it "does believe however that a registry is a sound protective measure that would ensure greater transparency with regard to foreign actors operating in Canada."

“Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” remarked ousted MP Kenny Chiu.

Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu, also a victim of a coordinated 'disinformation' campaign by Beijing, introduced Bill C-282 in 2021 to establish the Foreign Influence Registry. However, he lost his re-election that year, claimed to be a target of election interference himself. There is some weight to those claims, as first reported by Rebel News.

WeChat posts discovered by Rebel News show a coordinated campaign calling on all Chinese Canadians to oppose and vote against Conservative MP Kenny Chiu due to the introduction of Bill C-282 - claiming the bill will "catch all of our pro-China associations."

According to a February 1986 intelligence report, China/Canada: Interference in the Chinese Canadian Community, Canadian intelligence has known of Chinese interference preceding the collapse of the Soviet Union. Beijing has used open political tactics and secret operations to influence and exploit the Chinese diaspora in Canada.

A February 21, 2020, memo informed Cabinet of a "subtle but effective foreign interference network" allegedly operated by the PRC, including taxpayer-funded 'police stations' operating in the Greater Toronto Area and Montreal of which the RCMP has shut down.

CSIS clarified in its report that Canadians friendly with China constituted non-ethnic-Chinese individuals who maintain relations with PRC officials in Canada and have close ties with federal politicians, not Chinese Canadians close to MPs.

The 1986 committee report "demonstrates that this issue has been on the radar of Canadian intelligence for decades," said Alan Barnes, a former intelligence analyst. "Its reports were sent to a wide range of senior officials across government," he added, including the Privy Council Office.

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