Taking further action to uphold and strengthen confidence in our democracy
Good evening, everyone. I am very pleased to be here this evening with ministers LeBlanc, Mendicino, Rodriguez and Joly. We are here today to talk about our government’s measures to protect our democracy and our institutions from foreign interference.
In the last couple of weeks, Canadians have been hearing and reading a lot about the issue of attempted foreign interference, particularly from China, in our elections. There have been questions raised about our democracy, our national security agencies, our Parliament, and even our sovereignty. These questions strike us to the very core as Canadians.
Canadians pay attention to these issues because they know that it is extremely important to protect our democracy.
We all agree that upholding confidence in our democratic process, in our elections, in our institutions, is of utmost importance. This is not and should never be a partisan issue.
I understand that people want answers and Canadians deserve reassurance. I will get to the details in a moment, but today I’m announcing that I will be appointing an independent special rapporteur who will have a wide mandate and make expert recommendations on combatting interference and strengthening our democracy.
But first, I want to lay out some of what we’ve been doing and will do further to continue to protect our democracy and our institutions. In Canada, we believe deeply in the values of freedom, openness, and dialogue. These values are not universally shared by every government around the world; indeed, I don’t know if, in our lifetime, we’ve seen democracy in a more precarious place. Many state actors and non-state actors want to foster instability here and elsewhere to advance their own interests.
We have long known, and an independent report confirmed it again last week, that the Chinese government and other regimes, like Iran and Russia, have attempted to interfere not just in our democracy, but in our country in general, whether it’s our institutions, our businesses, our research facilities, or in the daily lives of our citizens. This is not a new problem, but before we came into office, there was no dedicated process to counter foreign interference in our elections.
We saw the impacts of foreign interference in places like the United States and in France during their elections in 2016 and 2017. These threats evolve and continue to evolve. We took big steps to protect the integrity of our democracy, things we did in response to the changes we saw around us, because that’s what responsible leadership does.
During the last two elections, in 2019 and 2021, a group of non-partisan senior public servants determined that interference attempts did not compromise our election results.
This panel is part of a mechanism, a protocol that we created in early 2019, so that independent, expert public servants can communicate clearly and impartially with Canadians during an election in the event of incidents that threaten the integrity of the federal election. After 2019, the panel and the protocol were reviewed by James Judd, former director of CSIS. And after the 2021 election, the panel and the protocol were again reviewed, this time by Morris Rosenberg, former senior deputy minister under both Conservative and Liberal governments.
Both independent reviews made recommendations that we’ve studied closely. Between the 2019 and 2021 elections, using Mr. Judd’s recommendations, we updated the protocol and strengthened it. We are now reviewing Mr. Rosenberg’s recommendations, and Minister LeBlanc is working on an implementation plan for as quickly as possible. Today, all political leaders agree that the election outcomes in 2019 and in 2021 were not impacted by foreign interference.
All of the leaders of the other parties agree that the results of the 2019 and 2021 elections were not affected by foreign interference.
But, even if it didn’t change the results of any of our elections, any interference attempt by any foreign actor is troubling and serious. Attempted interference is something that’s been happening for a long time, in Canada and in many other countries around the world, but how it happens is evolving, including with the rise of technology and social media. This is why, since 2015, we’ve taken big steps to protect the integrity of our democracy.
In 2017, we created the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, so that top secret-cleared MPs and senators can look deeply into these issues.
The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians has representatives from all recognized parties in the House of Commons and representatives from the Senate. They all have top secret security clearance so they can review the activities of our national security and intelligence agencies.
NSICOP has examined foreign interference in the past and tabled a comprehensive report to the public and to Parliament. This report focused on the period between 2015 and 2018; they also looked at the classified report reviewing the work of the panel in the 2019 election. In 2018, we passed legislation to strengthen elections, financing laws to keep foreign money out. And when we hosted the G7 summit that year in Charlevoix, we established the rapid response mechanism as a way for the G7 countries to respond to diverse and evolving foreign threats to democracy.
In 2019, we brought in our plan to protect democracy. This plan included the creation of the panel of independent public servants that I mentioned earlier. It also included the creation of the Security and Intelligence Threats to Election Task Force, which is made up of our top security agencies and advises the panel on potential threats.
We also created the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. NSIRA—OSSNR in French—is an agency that reviews the government’s national security and intelligence activities. And last year, we introduced new legislation to protect our cyber security.
These are only a few examples of what our government has done to address foreign interference since 2015, and we’re working on doing more. But, we have to make sure that we’re taking responsible steps without jeopardizing the work of our intelligence community and non-partisan officials to keep Canadians safe.
Today, I spoke with David McGuinty, the head of NSICOP, and with Marie Deschamps, the head of NSIRA. I underscored that Canadians need to have faith in their institutions and deserve answers and transparency. I talked with them about undertaking urgent work on the issue of foreign interference within their mandates.
Today, I spoke with David McGuinty, Chair of NSICOP, and with Marie Deschamps, Chair of NSIRA. I stressed that Canadians need to trust their institutions and that they deserve answers and transparency. I spoke with them about taking urgent steps within their mandates in relation to foreign interference.
NSICOP includes representatives from all recognized parties in the House of Commons, plus representatives from the Senate. They all already have top secret clearances, so they can review the activities of our national security and intelligence agencies. NSICOP has already received the classified version of the report reviewing the work of the 2021 panel and will be updating their last report reviewing foreign interference with a focus on our elections.
When democratic institutions are under attack, it is just that it be parliamentarians, elected officials, who should be stepping up to protect those institutions. This is why we created NSICOP and gave them the tools to review these matters and report their findings and recommendations to Parliament.
NSIRA is an external and independent expert body designed to review the collection and use of sensitive intelligence by government—including for all of our national security agencies—and ensure that they are meeting the high standards Canadians expect of them. They are well placed to determine how the system is working across intelligence agencies and government departments, what information flowed or didn’t flow properly, and why. They also produce reports publicly to Parliament.
Despite all of this, I know that there are people out there who don’t believe that this is enough. And I get that, this is why we’re entrusting further work to someone impartial. In the coming days, we will appoint an eminent Canadian to the position of independent special rapporteur, who will have a wide mandate to make expert recommendations on protecting and enhancing Canadians’ faith in our democracy. In the coming weeks, the independent special rapporteur will be responsible for informing the work of NSIRA and NSICOP, and any other existing processes—like those by Elections Canada—and to identify any gaps in our system. The independent special rapporteur will make public recommendations, which could include a formal inquiry or some other independent review process.
In the coming days, we will appoint an eminent Canadian to the position of independent special rapporteur, who will have a wide mandate to make expert recommendation on protecting our democracy. In the coming weeks, the independent special rapporteur will be responsible for directing the work of NSIRA and NSICOP, and the work of other processes in place—notably at Elections Canada—to identify any gaps in our system, if there are any.
In the past few weeks, people have expressed many different views about the steps we should be taking to answer questions about foreign interference. To me, it comes down to two things: that our democratic institutions are safe from foreign interference and that Canadians have confidence that it is so. This impartial, respected person will ensure transparency and also protection of our institutions, members of our intelligence agencies, and all Canadians.
Now, some people have argued strongly that a public inquiry is the necessary next step. Some others have pointed out the flaws and challenges of a public inquiry. That’s why we will ask the independent special rapporteur, as one of the first tasks of their mandate, to provide the government with a recommendation as to what the appropriate next step should be, whether it be an inquiry, an investigation, or a judicial review, and what the scope of that work may be. And we will abide by their recommendation.
As I said, we have done a lot of work, but we know that we can continue to act with other measures starting now to protect our institutions, our democracy, and Canadians from foreign interference.
That’s why I’ve tasked Minister Mendicino to launch, later this week, a consultation to guide how we will set up a new foreign influence transparency registry in Canada. We need to make sure there is transparency and accountability from those who advocate on behalf of foreign governments, while protecting communities who are often both targeted by attempts at foreign interference and who feel targeted when xenophobia and fearmongering overtake legitimate concern for our democracy and national security. It’s very important that we start with this consultation, because we have to be mindful of history any time we’re talking about registries of foreigners in our country.
I’ve also tasked Minister Mendicino to immediately establish a counter foreign interference coordinator in Public Safety Canada. This office will ensure that we’re taking on these issues across government in a coordinated way.
I’ve asked Minister Mendicino to launch a consultation later this week to guide the establishment of a new foreign influence transparency registry in Canada. I have also asked him to immediately establish a national counter foreign intelligence coordinator within Public Safety Canada. This office will help coordinate efforts across the government to address these issues.
I’ve also tasked Minister LeBlanc and the Clerk of the Privy Council to review and bring forward a plan to implement any outstanding recommendations from NSICOP, the Rosenberg Report, and any other reviews on these matters in the next 30 days.
I have also tasked Minister LeBlanc and the Clerk of the Privy Council with presenting a plan to implement all of the outstanding recommendations from NSICOP and the Rosenberg Report, and with reviewing this plan and all other related issues in the next 30 days.
And finally today, I can announce that we’re investing $5.5 million to build capacity of civil society organizations to combat disinformation. Because we know disinformation—often generated abroad—can be a real threat to our elections, and it’s a threat that the federal government cannot combat alone.
Let me be very clear: any attack or attempted attack against our democracy in unacceptable. We will continue to strengthen our institutions to defend their integrity.
We will always stand firm when it comes to defending our national security. Just like we stood firm when we worked day and night to bring back the two Michaels after they were arbitrarily detained in China, including over the course of the 2019 and 2021 elections. As Canadians, we all felt a collective effort to work together to bring them home, and we felt tremendous relief when we finally got them home.
But, let’s remember that throughout there were repeated calls by eminent Canadians, both Conservative and Liberal, to simply capitulate to the Chinese government, to give in to their demands, to ignore our extradition treaty with the United States, and ignore the values and the principles of rule of law on which Canada is grounded. But we didn’t. We stood strong as a government, we stood strong as Canadians for our values and for the rule of law, and we got them home that way.
That’s what a Prime Minister does, that’s what responsible leadership is. Foreign interference is a complex landscape that should not be boiled down to sound bites and binary choices. And it should certainly not be about partisan politics. As politicians, we work hard on building trust with Canadians every single day. But it is also our duty to do everything we can so that Canadians can trust our institutions now and into the future, because our institutions will—and must—outlast every politician.
As politicians, we work every day to build trust with people. But it is also our duty to do so… and to do it… to do everything in our power to build Canadians’ trust in our institutions. Today and in the future.
Our institutions are the foundations of our democracy. Even when they’re strong, even when they’re sturdy, if there’s a perception that they might not be, it needs to be addressed and we need to work beyond partisanship to work together. Canada is one of the most stable democracies in the world, but that didn’t happen by accident, and it will not continue without effort.
So, to all Canadians, this is an issue that we continue to take extremely seriously, and we will continue this work to uphold and strengthen your confidence in our democracy in Canada.
Thank you very much.