Liberal-appointed senators say ‘no’ to a foreign agent registry

Canada will not pursue a foreign agent registry despite repeated appeals from all house parties. Australia and the United States have implemented foreign registries since 2018 and 1938, respectively.

Liberal-appointed senators say ‘no’ to a foreign agent registry
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Canada will not pursue a foreign agent registry despite repeated appeals from all house parties.

According to Blacklock’s Reporter, Attorney General Arif Virani rejected the standalone registry. He said cabinet will take “weeks and months” to find “the best approach [and] bolster our defences” against foreign interference.

Bloc Québécois MP René Villemure, vice-chair of the ethics committee, told reporters last month that all MPs agreed to adopt a registry. “We want to make sure this happens,” he said.

“A registry is not a universal solution and should be accompanied by other initiatives,” said Virani in a statement Monday. “We are consulting,” he added but did not clarify a deadline.

The decision contradicts a recommendation by the ethics committee last month to unmask foreign agents through a registry—a tactic that both Australia and the United States have implemented since 2018 and 1938, respectively.

On May 17, the all-party Commons special committee on Canada-China relations also recommended the introduction of a foreign registry. Yet, legislation remains in limbo without reason.

“Several allied countries have established foreign influence registries,” said the committee report Foreign Interference And The Threats To The Integrity Of Democratic Institutions.

However, Canada has failed to pass legislation despite several proposals in recent years.

During a Canada-China relations committee hearing in February, then-Public Minister Marco Mendicino received questions on why safeguard measures had not been implemented then.

"I wouldn’t describe it as a hesitation; I think we need to be diligent and thoughtful and inclusive when [we] modernize the tools […] for our national security and intelligence communities," he said, suggesting a timeline on introducing a foreign registry.

For nearly two years, the Liberal-held Senate has delayed Conservative Bill S-237, An Act To Establish The Foreign Influence Registry, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

“Why don’t we do our job?” Senator Leo Housakos, sponsor of the bill, earlier asked the Senate. “Get the ball rolling instead of wasting another year in consultations and maybe have another election before we get anything done.”

Rather than mandate the disclosure of agents acting on behalf of a “foreign government, individual or entity,” the bill has yet to receive a second reading in the Senate after completing its first reading on February 24, 2022.

Should Bill S-237 pass, it would compel disclosure under threat of $200,000 fines or two years in jail, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu, a victim of an alleged 'disinformation' campaign by Beijing, introduced Bill C-282 two years ago in a bid to establish the Foreign Influence Registry. “Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” he said.

However, Chiu failed to secure re-election that year and the bill collapsed. 

In September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received questions concerning his government’s failure to act on the matter.

"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 brought in," he claimed.

Liberal-appointed Senator Yuen Pau Woo has repeatedly championed a Commons petition against a registry, calling it a “serious harassment and stigmatization risk” for Chinese Canadians. 

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

Yet only 2,450 Canadians have signed Petition E-4395, a small number by House standards.

Senator Woo in a May 16 commentary with Policy Options claimed demands for a registry represented a “frenzy of innuendo against Chinese Canadian politicians.” He did not elaborate at the time.

However, Woo suggested the “extreme anti-China sentiment” of Canadians led to the targeting of people with “ancestry, business ties or professional interests” to mainland China.

"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 penned in the commentary. 

According to leaked, top-secret CSIS reports, China 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.

Two MPs of Chinese ancestry targeted by foreign agents, Conservative Michael Chong and New Democrat Jenny Kwan, have both expressed support for a registry.

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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