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Why Canada’s protections from foreign meddling in elections may be an ‘incomplete project’

People arrive to cast their ballot on federal election day in Montreal, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. A Parliamentary committee is set to decide whether or not it will expand its current study on foreign election interference to include more details about the 2021 federal election. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Earlier this week, a panel of senior public servants released a report concluding that while there were attempts to interfere with the 2021 federal election, those attempts did not affect the results.

That panel, which oversees the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol (CEIPP), was created in 2019 as part of a series of measures taken by the federal government to combat the threat of foreign influence on Canada’s election process.

Those initiatives — which also included the establishment of an election threat task force consisting of Canada’s top security agencies — have been greeted with praise by some security experts.

But others say much more needs to be done to prevent foreign meddling in Canadian elections.

‘An incomplete project’

“Canada already does a fair bit to counter foreign interference,” said Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. “But I do think that we could do more, and that we should do more.”

Last year, for example, Canada’s cyber spy agency, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), said in its annual report that it had launched a defensive operation to protect the 2021 federal election — including the party leaders’ debate — from disruption by foreign agencies. 

The operation was designed to disrupt hostile cyber activity aimed at the voting system, as well as to protect political parties from foreign interference, the agency said.

“I think what we’ve done so far, it’s a start,” said Dennis Molinaro, a professor of legal studies at Ontario Tech University and a former national security analyst. “But it’s really an incomplete project.”

“Our measures should be useful enough that it is deterring activity. But what we are seeing instead is that activity at least appears to be, and from what we’re seeing, is increasing. That’s the opposite of what we want.”

The issue has become a recent hot-button topic on Parliament Hill following media reports alleging foreign interference in federal elections. The Globe and Mail reported last week that secret and top-secret documents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said Beijing sought to ensure a Liberal minority government and the defeat of several Conservative candidates in 2021.

On Wednesday, the Conservatives and the NDP called for a public inquiry into allegations that China interfered in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

“We definitely have a foreign interference problem in Canada,” tweeted Jessica Davis, president at Insight Threat Intelligence and a former CSIS senior strategic analyst. “We lack sufficient enforcement of existing laws.”

“It’s unclear who the ultimate person responsible for this is in Canada,” she tweeted. “It could be useful to consider the idea of some sort of foreign influence champion/deputy minister/anyone who will be accountable on this issue.”

Juneau said that after the 2016 U.S. election, and reports of large-scale intervention, there was fear that Canada needed to take the issue more seriously.

“That was a wake-up call,” he said.

Source: cbc