Parliament quietly passes foreign interference bill amid last-minute attempt to strike it down

Once implemented, Bill C-70, An Act respecting countering foreign interference, will swiftly punish diplomats and other agents with fines and jail time, if implicated in foreign meddling.

Parliament quietly passes foreign interference bill amid last-minute attempt to strike it down
The Canadian Press / Adrian Wyld
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The Trudeau government’s foreign interference legislation quietly became law before the parliamentary summer recess.

Bill C-70, An Act respecting countering foreign interference, is the culmination of Parliament’s efforts to stifle foreign meddling after intelligence revealed espionage attempts in 2019 and 2021.

Once implemented, the bill seeks to establish a foreign influence registry to swiftly punish diplomats and other agents that target Canadian democracy.

Parliament is expected to operationalize the bill before the upcoming October 2025 federal election, according to bureaucrat testimony. Bill C-70 will take upwards of one year to implement.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc introduced Bill C-70 on May 6. It passed the Senate on Wednesday.

It would “modernize our toolbox to protect our citizens and democracy while upholding Canadian values and principles,” he told Parliament on May 6.

Foreign Interference Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue released an interim report three days prior on the tainting of Canada’s democratic process over the past two federal elections. 

Foreign meddling swayed but did not alter election results, she said. 

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) released a subsequent report on June 4, stating some MPs “began wittingly assisting foreign state actors soon after their election.”

Opposition MPs, security experts and targeted diaspora communities have repeatedly called on the feds to take decisive action but to no avail.

The legislation mandates that foreigners carrying out tasks “under the direction of or in association with a foreign principal,” notify the Foreign Influence Transparency Commissioner of their conflicts of interest.

Failure to abide is punishable by a fine of up to $5 million or imprisonment up to five years.

In addition, Bill C-70 amends the Canadian Security Intelligence Act to loosen disclosure requirements for information about the “security of Canada.”

It would also give CSIS the ability to inform MPs facing espionage risks by a foreign power.

Conservative MPs rejoiced Wednesday at the passing of the bill, including MP Michael Chong, foreign affairs critic. Chong called the passage of Bill C-70 a “first step” in holding the Chinese government accountable for its meddling in Canadian politics, including personally targeting him and his family. 

Former Tory MP Kenny Chiu, who attributes his 2021 electoral defeat to a ‘disinformation’ campaign, thanked all House parties for protecting Canada’s national security. 

One senator unsuccessfully tabled a last-minute amendment Wednesday in a bid to strike down the bill.

Independent Senator Yuen Pau Woo believed mentioning the words “in association with” was too vague for the legislation to be effective. The motion only received 17 votes in favour.

The clause states: “Every person commits an offence who, at the direction of, for the benefit of or in association with, a foreign entity or a terrorist group, induces or attempts to induce, by intimidation, threat or violence, any person to do anything or to cause anything to be done.”

Senator Marc Gold, the Government Representative to the upper house, disagreed with the provisions being overly broad.

“On their face, these provisions do not criminalize mere association with a foreign entity,” he said. “Rather, they target people who are up to no good, using threats, violence, intimidation and deceit. Someone engaged in this kind of activity should be subject to prosecution.”

Senator Woo has repeatedly claimed the bill targets Chinese Canadians who participate in charitable activities between China and Canada for “the benefit of Canadians.”

He said such activity would require frequent contact with Chinese officials and “may also be members of associations that are deemed to be United Front Work Department organizations.”

The United Front is widely considered a part of China’s clandestine operations to meddle abroad. 

“What advice would you give to Chinese Canadians who seek to do these good things for their fellow Canadians?” asked Woo.

“Obviously, the first comment I would have is that I know many Canadians of Chinese descent who consider Canada the motherland, not China, and their loyalty is to Canada, not to China,” replied Senator Percy Downe. “That’s what we expect from all our citizens.”

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