Foreign Interference Provisions in Proposed Amended Electoral Law

Bill C-65 will establish new prohibitions and modify existing ones that are supposed to counter "foreign interference" in elections. It particularly targets "third parties" which refers to any individual or organization other than a registered political party, riding association, or candidate that spends money to participate in election campaigning.

While appearing to make "third party" participation less burdensome by increasing the amount of money that can be spent before registration is mandatory from $500 to $1,500, the new provisions will require greater reporting requirements as to the source of funds being used. The rules for reporting and divulging the names and addresses of contributors have been made more rigorous, adding a further impediment to organizations of a mass character even considering entering the fray of election campaigning. Canadian-based foreign corporations or groups that have been formed to essentially act as U.S.-style Super PACS (political action committees) will be able to navigate the laws without problem.

Even if an organization wants to campaign in an educational manner to heighten awareness about issues of concern, such as those related to the environment, without referring to a particular candidate or party, the law is such the campaign can be deemed to be pro- or con- a party or candidate.

Every time the law governing third parties is changed there is greater possibility of being caught for innocent acts. It moves the law further and further away from any connection to enabling legislation for citizens to exercise their right to participate and instead turns them into potential criminals. It is for all intents and purposes a legal message: stay out of political affairs, which is usually referred to as a "chilling effect."

These increasingly complicated and restrictive rules and regulations are supposedly to stop foreign interference in elections.

As it stands now, the Canada Elections Act prohibits any third party from using funds that come from a "foreign entity," defined as any individual who is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, a trade union without bargaining rights in the country, a foreign political party, or a foreign government, including "an agent or mandatary" of one. Corporations operating in Canada are not considered to be a foreign entity so long as they carry on business in Canada. In keeping with the suggestion that Canada is beset with clandestine activities by surreptitious characters, domestic and foreign alike, a ban on the use of crypto currencies, money orders and other "non-traceable currencies" in an election campaign will apply to third parties as well as political parties and candidates.

This is done even though registered third parties, parties and candidates must report the names of virtually all contributors, and the names and addresses of those contributing more than $200.

Bill C-65 was tabled on March 20, before the Foreign Interference Commission had completed the "fact-finding" phase of its hearings on allegations of foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, let alone issue its report.

When it did issue its report on May 3, it informed "States use a variety of techniques to interfere in the elections of others. Perhaps the most straightforward way to interfere in an election is to provide resources to a candidate's campaign," and cited "domestic third parties" as a vehicle for such interference. No evidence was presented as to such third party activities in either the 2019 or 2021 election.

In fact, the one allegation referenced in the report was based on mere suspicion and after being investigated by the Commissioner of Elections Canada, (OCCE) no foreign interference was found. All the parties involved were Canadians. Jenny Kwan, a candidate in Vancouver East, suggested that Canadian citizen Fred Kwok, who the Commission refers to as "a prominent member of the Chinese community in Vancouver" hosted a free lunch for about 20 people in support of the Liberal candidate in the riding. The invitation to the luncheon was posted on a private WeChat group and Ms. Kwan told the Commission that the invitation encouraged people to vote for members of parliament "'who would care about issues of the Chinese nationals,' the latter term meaning persons who prioritize issues of concern to the Chinese government."

NDP lawyers filed a complaint about the luncheon with the OCCE alleging that the organizer had violated third party election rules. Mr. Kwok consequently registered as a third party and reported the cost of the lunch to be $1,500. The investigation resulted in an administrative monetary penalty for the Official Agent of the Liberal candidate who failed to report the luncheon as a "contribution in kind." According to the Foreign Interference Commission report, "The OCCE determined that the organizer of the lunch did not break any rules under the Canada Elections Act. The OCCE did not identify evidence of foreign funding and noted that it was the Liberal campaign that approached Mr. Kwok to organize a lunch." Ms. Kwan also reported the lunch to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and CSIS, whom she did not hear back from.

Such stories are typical of the spurious claims made about foreign interference based on secret-police inspired suspicions and allegations that China, Russia, Iran or India are lurking everywhere.

The next report, which must be presented by December 31, is supposed to include recommendations on measures the government should take to enhance its powers and processes for countering foreign interference. Witnesses -- including Canadians of Russian, Iranian, and Chinese origin -- testified March 27 to April 5 about how they have been targeted and threatened. This was an encore to the chorus of claims that have already been made through secret police leaks to the Globe and Mail and Global News. Witnesses at the hearings required a battery of lawyers which clearly made it impossible for some to attend but none of it can take away from the fact that there is ongoing disinformation about nomination contests being a target of "foreign bad actors." Rather than limiting themselves to regulating the flow of money, there is a push to put the nomination contests under greater regulation.

At the beginning of March, some 100 electors of Iranian national origin called on Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre to conduct a probe into a Conservative nomination race in Richmond Hill because Iran allegedly interfered to prevent "a critic of the regime" from being selected. Since at least June 2023, this issue has been percolating through parliamentary committees, police statements, and security experts. For instance, Wesley Wark, a senior fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, told the Hill Times that "it should have dawned on political parties much earlier that they themselves are clearly the target for foreign interference activities, and they are regarded as opportune and vulnerable targets." He concluded that political parties must work with the national security agencies "to harden their practices."

Far be it for the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada to dispute whether the cartel parties are vulnerable targets; there are not a few in the country who believe that the Deputy Prime Minister herself is a veritable foreign agent, amongst others. Nobody wants their country to be under the control of people working for foreign interests but it is doubtful that getting rid of foreign agents is the aim of the legislation. Should the nomination process be put into the hands of the citizenry, not political parties, they could select candidates from among their peers, people who they know, and whose concerns and agendas emanate from the concerns held in common with their peers.

This article was published in
Volume 54 Number 4 - May 2024

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