Perhaps a better question would be, what isn't foreign interference?

According to a sweeping intelligence report first presented to the Prime Minister and now made public, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) shared an impactful overview of the degree of infiltration, corruption and foreign interference, notably among Members of Parliament.

As it turns out - and I didn't even know this - the bar for foreign interference is very high indeed.

It includes activities that one might think should be on the list, but which are tolerated. These include:

  1. Diplomatic Engagements: Legitimate diplomatic efforts and routine communications by foreign officials with Canadian counterparts.
  2. International Collaboration: Participation in international organizations and initiatives, such as the United Nations or World Health Organization, where countries work together on common global issues.
  3. Cultural Exchanges: Educational and cultural exchange programs aimed at fostering mutual understanding and cooperation between nations.
  4. Trade and Economic Negotiations: Legitimate trade negotiations and economic activities conducted transparently and within the bounds of international trade agreements.
  5. Academic Collaboration: Partnerships and joint research initiatives between Canadian and foreign academic institutions that adhere to established ethical guidelines and transparency requirements.

These activities are considered part of normal international relations and are distinguished from covert or manipulative actions aimed at undermining Canadian democratic processes.

The report goes on to say that not even aggressive activities designed to sway public opinion towards a particular foreign group makes the cut, including:

  1. Aggressive lobbying, lawful advocacy, or dissent.
  2. Overt engagement with entities in Canada.
  3. Canadian entities openly advocating support for a foreign state.
  4. Use of foreign state media outlets in Canada to spread propaganda.

In fact, as supported by the following image, it takes a LOT to trip the wire on this, and not even these sketchy practices constitute outright evidence of foreign interference:

  1. Paying Canadian media outlets to produce foreign propaganda (without attribution).
  2. Providing support (financial or other-wise) to friendly community organizations in Canada (without attribution).
  3. Corruptive practices (e.g., exchange of small favours, payments, inducements to further a relationship.
  4. Foreign state coordination with private or non-state entities (e.g., companies to pressure policymakers.
  5. Engaging with third party groups/persons in Canada to 'monitor' entities of concern (e.g., dissidents).

In effect it takes outright disinformation - not propaganda and not misinformation - to finally have someone accused of facilitating or engaging in foreign interference. Such activities include:

  1. Obfuscation of state involvement in influence efforts, use of third parties to further hostile state interests.
  2. Deceptive activities meant to manipulate individuals.
  3. Clandestinely or deceptively using entities (e.g., person, group, company) in Canada to perform duties normally assigned to officials of a foreign state.
  4. Stifling open discussion of contentious issues via threats and/or coercion.
  5. Funding and/or supporting electoral candidates or political parties via proxies.
  6. Seeking to control or unduly influence diaspora communities and groups.
  7. Disinformation campaigns - both online and offline.

Indeed, according to Liberal MP David McGuinty, who chairs the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) which issued the report, said: "We found foreign interference at every order of government, in every political party, in the public sector, the media, the NGO sector, the private sector," he said. "It's there, and it's not stopping."

The report indicated that China and India are the "most active perpetrators", but failed to identify any individual Members of Parliament, preferring instead to cite potentially illegal and "particularly concerning examples of behaviour by a few parliamentarians".

Examples abound

The report also cited examples of parliamentarians accepting benefits from other countries "knowingly or through willful blindness," and responding to direction from foreign officials to "improperly influence parliamentary colleagues or parliamentary business to the advantage of a foreign state."

By doing a little digging, I was able to locate extensive documentation on investigative practices into foreign interference published by the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions, a comprehensive examination initiated by the Canadian government to investigate and address the impact of foreign interference on Canada's federal electoral processes and broader democratic institutions. With a broad mandate including different types of espionage and other foreign interference tradecraft, the inquiry included four key areas of focus:

  • Electoral Integrity: Ensuring the integrity and security of voting processes and systems.
  • Information and Disinformation: Addressing the spread of misinformation and disinformation by foreign actors intended to influence public opinion and electoral outcomes.
  • Cybersecurity: Protecting critical electoral infrastructure from cyberattacks.
  • Legal and Policy Frameworks: Assessing the adequacy of existing laws and policies in deterring and responding to foreign interference.

The site is a treasure trove of interesting information and includes such examples as emails, websites, communications and even documents classified as "Secret/Canadian Eyes Only". Who could resist? Here are a few examples:


Part of a broader initiative

The inquiry is part of broader efforts by the Canadian government, which include the establishment of the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol (CEIPP), the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) Task Force, and the Digital Citizen Initiative, all aimed at protecting democratic processes from foreign interference. All documentation is available at Documents ( the addition of the NSICOP report, government's proposed foreign interference legislation, Bill C-70, is expected to address a number of the issues the committee has raised, including creating a foreign agent registry, the key implications being:

  1. Increased Transparency: The Foreign Influence Transparency Registry will require individuals and entities that engage in arrangements with foreign principals to register and disclose their activities if they pertain to influencing Canadian political or governmental processes. This transparency is intended to deter covert foreign influence by making such activities public and accountable ( (Norton Rose Fulbright | Global law firm) .
  2. Enhanced National Security: Bill C-70 introduces new criminal offences related to foreign interference, such as sabotage of essential infrastructure and the unauthorized use of devices for such purposes. These measures aim to protect critical sectors like transportation, financial systems, and information technology from foreign threats (Gowling WLG) (Home | Blakes) .
  3. Broadened Definitions: The bill defines "foreign principal" and "arrangement" very broadly, encompassing a wide range of entities and activities. This could include foreign state-owned enterprises, media, financial institutions, and even individuals acting on behalf of foreign governments. Such broad definitions aim to cover all possible channels of foreign influence (Home | Blakes) .
  4. Heavy Compliance Burden: Entities that fall under the broad definitions will face significant compliance requirements. They must register their engagements and report specific activities, which could impose administrative and operational burdens, especially for businesses with extensive international interactions (Home | Blakes) .
  5. Strengthened Legal Framework: Bill C-70 includes amendments to existing laws like the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Criminal Code. These amendments enhance the capabilities of intelligence agencies and law enforcement to investigate and respond to foreign interference, while also maintaining judicial oversight and respecting Canadians' rights (Open Parliament) (Home | Blakes) .
  6. Public Awareness and Education: The bill emphasizes the importance of educating the public about the risks and tactics of foreign interference. This includes campaigns to raise awareness and foster a more resilient society against such threats (Gowling WLG) .

Overall, Bill C-70 represents a significant legislative effort to protect Canada's democratic institutions from foreign interference by increasing transparency, strengthening national security measures, and promoting public awareness. However, it also introduces compliance challenges and raises concerns about balancing security with freedom of expression and legitimate international engagements.As with many other keystone bills, Bill C-70 raises several ethical concerns, particularly regarding privacy, freedom of expression, potential misuse, and the impact on democratic principles.

Privacy and Surveillance

The broad definitions of "foreign principal" and "arrangement" could lead to extensive surveillance of individuals and entities engaged in legitimate activities. The requirement for entities to register any dealings with foreign principals could infringe upon privacy rights. This surveillance could create a chilling effect, where individuals and organizations might refrain from engaging in certain activities due to fear of being monitored (Norton Rose Fulbright | Global law firm) (Home | Blakes) .

Freedom of Expression

There are significant concerns that the bill might infringe upon freedom of expression. The requirement to register any engagement with foreign principals could discourage advocacy and dissent, particularly for those involved in politically sensitive or controversial issues. This could disproportionately affect activists, journalists, and researchers who engage with international organizations or foreign governments as part of their work (Gowling WLG) (Home | Blakes) .

Potential for Misuse

The broad scope of the registry could be misused for political purposes. There is a risk that the registry could be employed to target or harass individuals and organizations based on their political beliefs or affiliations. This concern is especially relevant in a polarized political environment, where accusations of foreign influence can be weaponized against political opponents (Home | Blakes) (Home | Blakes) .

Impact on Civil Society

The administrative burden of complying with the registry's requirements could disproportionately affect non-profit organizations, community groups, and smaller entities that lack the resources to navigate complex regulatory requirements. This could stifle civic engagement and limit the capacity of civil society organizations to advocate for change and engage in public discourse (Norton Rose Fulbright | Global law firm) (Gowling WLG) .

Democratic Principles and Trust

The potential for the registry to be used in a manner that targets specific groups or individuals could undermine public trust in the government and its commitment to democratic principles. Ensuring that the registry operates transparently and fairly is crucial to maintaining the integrity of democratic processes and public confidence in government institutions (Open Parliament) (Home | Blakes) .

Balancing Security and Rights

While the bill aims to enhance national security by addressing foreign interference, it is essential to balance these security measures with the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. Overly broad and invasive measures could undermine the very democratic values that the bill seeks to protect (Gowling WLG) (Home | Blakes) .In summary, while Bill C-70 aims to protect Canada's democratic processes from foreign interference, it raises significant ethical concerns related to privacy, freedom of expression, potential misuse, the impact on civil society, and the balance between security and democratic rights. These concerns need to be carefully addressed to ensure that the bill does not inadvertently undermine the democratic values it seeks to defend.

The NSICOP Committee declined to indicate whether the MPs that 'inspired' the report are still sitting in Parliament today.