Foreign state actors use bribery, blackmail, and threats to influence Canadian politics, says CSIS and a Canadian policy expert.
A Canadian Security Intelligence Service report “Foreign Interference: Threats to Canada’s Democratic Process” says foreign states are attempting to subvert and steer Canadian democracy.
“The Canadian public and voters are targeted by foreign interference as they are generally viewed by state actors as vulnerable targets. In particular, elections provide valuable opportunities for state actors to conduct disinformation and interference campaigns,” the report said.
“CSIS has observed persistent and sophisticated state-sponsored threat activity targeting elections for many years now and continues to see a rise in its frequency and sophistication.”
In an interview with Western Standard, Marcus Kolga, a Senior Fellow with the MacDonald-Laurier Institute and head of its DisinfoWatch.org, said “there is a frightening lack of awareness of the threat in Canada” but CSIS penned a “really excellent report.”
“Their [CSIS’] director, has clearly defined the threat actors and that’s China, Russia, and Iran…China has learned from the Russians and we’ve seen them really start engaging in the same sort of information operations, certainly with regard to the genocide in Xinjiang. And I think that, quite honestly, we’ve seen the direct impact.”
In June, a Parliamentary motion to condemn China’s persecution of Uighurs in Xinjiang was voted down by 33 Senators, which, according to Kolga, parroted perspectives shared by the Chinese government and its state-sponsored media.
The CSIS report said Canadian media wasn’t immune either.
“Mainstream news outlets, as well as community sources, may also be targeted by foreign states who attempt to shape public opinion, debate, and covertly influence participation in the democratic process,” the report read.
The report also said that foreign states try to encourage or pressure their nationals living in Canada to support certain candidates. They, like politicians themselves, may be subject to “threats, bribery or blackmail.”
“The targeting and manipulation of diverse Canadian communities are one of the primary means through which states carry out foreign interference activities and undermine Canada’s democracy. The impact of this is that communities may fear or resent state-backed or state-linked retribution targeting both individuals in Canada and their loved ones abroad,” said the report.
Kolga, a journalist, filmmaker, and human rights activist, said these states also use front organizations.
“They’re fake grassroots organizations. Others are business associations, and, of course, corporations. So, what we’ve seen both on the Chinese and Russian side is former diplomats, academics, former elected officials, who are given pretty sweet positions on the boards of these associations, sometimes on the boards of various different state-controlled corporations. And by doing so, they then are able to use those individuals for various different state narratives, propaganda, and such,” he said.
Kolga has advocated for Magnitsky sanctions in many countries. Such legislation allows governments to freeze the assets of human rights offenders. The sanctions were inspired by the death of Russian tax lawyer Sergi Magnitsky who died in a Moscow prison in 2009.
“I’m being constantly targeted by the far left because of my activism and my criticisms of the regimes in Russia and China,” Kolga said.
“I’ll get targeted by various different trolls, and have been for a number of years. So I’m quite used to it, it’s a regular part of the job when you’re outspoken…If you advocate for the victims of Communist crimes, you become a target. And the far left tends to use those same labels as the Soviets did.”
Kolga said he has faced death threats at least three times, but that aggressive foreign states are a threat to all Canadians.
“The outcome is the totality, the total destruction of our democracy…And until we do start thinking about these threats in those terms, as an existential threat to our Western liberal democracy, then we’re in real trouble…
“Our democracy is under siege and it is worth fighting for, but I’m not sure that the government understands that yet.”
Lee Harding is a Saskatchewan-based correspondent for Western Standard.
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