The federal government can take “lessons” from Australia and other allies when it comes to creating Canada’s foreign agents registry, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.
Many experts in recent weeks have cited Australia’s foreign registry as an prime example that Canada can follow for its own program.
Australia’s public registry requires people advocating for a foreign state to register their activities, under penalty of fines or jail time. The United States has a similar program.
Trudeau, who was in Newfoundland on Wednesday, told reporters that parliamentarians will “study various proposals” over the coming weeks. The government kicked off consultations for its “foreign influence transparency registry” last Friday.
“We’re going to continue to work as parliamentarians to study various proposals. There are lessons learned around what Australia and other countries have done around a foreign influence registry,” Trudeau said.
“It’s an important tool. It’s not a silver bullet that’s going to save everything, but I think it’s part of the toolbox that we need to look at, and that’s why the public safety minister is moving forward as we committed to delivering on a public and national foreign influence registry.”
Ottawa last week opened public consultations for a long-awaited foreign agents registry as the minister tasked with running them acknowledged that the challenge posed to the country by foreign interference is significant.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters in Ottawa that consultations will be held until May 9.
Mendicino said he hopes the consultations will increase transparency around illegitimate foreign state lobbying and activities, modernize existing legislative authorities and engage Canadians in protecting democratic institutions.
“There are few greater challenges that we face than foreign interference. Countering this threat, protecting the safety of Canadians and maintaining our national sovereignty are my paramount objectives as minister of public safety,” he said last week.
“Foreign hostile actors have targeted Canada. While those threats are not new, they have evolved and as they have evolved, so, too, have we stepped up our efforts to protect Canadians.”
Experts have called for Ottawa to create such a program, especially in light of recent reports from Global News and the Globe and Mail highlighting the alleged efforts of the Chinese government to influence Canada’s elections and society.
Michael Wernick, who served as clerk of the Privy Council for Canada from 2016 to 2019, told Global News on Feb. 28 that a registry is something that can be acted upon now amid calls for a public inquiry that can play out over an extended period of time.
David Mulroney, who was the government’s envoy to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) between 2009 and 2012, told MPs sitting on a committee studying foreign interference on Feb. 7 that Ottawa should create a registry of foreign agents, something “that would simply require transparency of those who disperse funds for, lobby for, or speak for foreign states in Canada.”
Mendicino on Friday said consultations have begun online, and that he will be participating in roundtable discussions in the coming weeks. It’s how long it would take to establish a foreign agents registry after the consultations wrap up.
The Liberal government has been under immense pressure to explain what it knew about foreign interference in the 2021 election after the Globe and Mail reported last month that intelligence sources said China attempted to interfere in that campaign to help the Liberals win another minority government.
That report came after months of revelations from Global News about allegations of Chinese interference in the 2019 election.
Trudeau has announced a slew of investigations into the matter, but the decision on whether a public inquiry is warranted will be made by a “special rapporteur,” who is expected to be named in the near future.
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