On April 14, 2023, Petition E-4395 became available for signature on the House of Commons website. This petition was drafted in response to plans for the implementation of a “Foreign Influence Transparency Registry” that is being considered by the Trudeau government; this being in response to baseless allegations being spread by CSIS and the RCMP of Chinese electoral interference in Canadian politics. As noted by Canadian public safety minister Marco Mendicino, the goal of this registry is to “foster transparency regarding legitimate foreign state lobbying”.
According to the public stakeholder consultation paper released by the Canadian government, to solicit feedback from the public regarding the proposed registry, “malign” foreign influence activities are defined by activities that:
Seek to influence Members of Parliament, Senators or MP and Senate staff;
Seek to influence public servants at all levels of government;
Seek to influence political parties and election candidates;
Make verbal or written statements in public or through media favorable to a foreign government in order to shift public opinion favorable to foreign governments;
Produce communications materials for societal, political and government influence;,
Distribute money and things of value to secure political influence
With a registry in place, the Canadian government defines these activities as needing to be recorded by the register:
Lobbying on behalf of a foreign government
Political advocacy on behalf of a foreign government
Disbursement Activity (Distribution of Money) to influence individuals and organizations
Potentially communications activity, which is defined as “circumstances in which information or material are disseminated, published, disbursed, shared or made available to the Canadian public” for the benefit of a foreign government.
Individuals carrying out activity deemed to constitute malign foreign influence would face various penalties to enforce compliance in registration. These penalties include both fines to limit the revenue of anyone suspected to be operating under foreign influence along with various other criminal penalties. The extent of these penalties has not been disclosed.
These plans were criticized by Petition E-4395 as infringing on the civil liberties of Canadians and creating a climate of fear targeting racialized communities. According to the petition, if already existing laws are not strong enough to target foreign influence as the government has claimed in the consultation paper, then they should be strengthened instead. Furthermore, the broad scope covered by the planned registry may both trample on Canadian charter rights and create an environment of stigma around racialized communities. If a foreign influence registry is indeed necessary, it must apply to all countries equally and be based on specific arrangements such as lobbying or monetary payment of individual organizations by foreign governments. In addition, registration should not apply to “communications activity”.
Currently, petition E-4395 has close to 1900 signatures, which is not only more than enough for e-4395 to receive a response from the House of Commons, but significantly more compared to Petition E-2559’s 788 signatures. Petition E-2559, circulated during the Meng Wanzhou affair, called for a “Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act ” modeled after laws in Australia. While only having 788 signatures, the Canadian government responded by eventually banning from 5G networks in Canada and stating that they were looking for for “new and innovative ways” to response to potential cases of foreign influence.
The Canadians who are supporting the petition
Petition e-4395 is to be presented to the House of Commons with endorsement by Liberal MP Chandra Arya. In an email to Global News, Arya noted that he shares the concerns of the petitioners. In particular, the concern within the Chinese-Canadian community, that the planned registry would lead to harassment and intimidation of many ethnic minorities in Canada if placed in the wrong hands.
An organization named “Your Views Matter (YVM)” is rallying support for petition E-4395. Your Views Matter is initiated by the Canada-China Friendship Association, and allied with various progressive peace advocacy organizations such as the Progressive Chinese Quebeckers, Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War, the Mouvement Québécois pour la Paix, the Canada China Council for Cooperation and Development, as well as various progressive Chinese Canadian organizations in its push against the registry. The Parliamentary petition itself is directly linked on the home page of the organization’s website.
In addition to promoting Petition E-4395, YVM also encouraged Canadians on May 2, 2023 to take part in the consultation process launched by the government on March 10, 2023. This consultation process, which ran till May 9, 2023, sought to gain input from Canadians regarding the implementation of a proposed foreign registry. From May 2 to the closing of the consultation on May 9th Your Views Matter called on Canadians to participate in this consultation.
On their website, YVM highlighted responses to the consultation that pointed out:
The problems with the proposed registry such as the marginalization of immigrant communities
The validity of already-existing laws that can touch on foreign influence, and;
The need to hold all governments with potential foreign influence operations in Canada to account, rather than a select few governments the Canadian government is opposed to.
Petition important in fight against further erosion of Canadians’ rights
The arrival of Petition E-4395 is a timely response to the scapegoating of Chinese Canadians by anti-China hawks in CSIS, the media, and the government. This scapegoating has been escalating as tensions with China worsen. The proposed registry has already faced opposition within the Canadian Parliament and Senate. This opposition comes not only from petition sponsor MP Chandra Arya, but also from B.C. Senator Yuen Pau Woo (independent), Ontario Senator Victor Oh (Conservative), and former Senator Vivienne Poy.
On March 16, 2023, Woo warned the federal government that any sort of foreign influence registry must not be overly broad to avoid the unfair targeting of Chinese-Canadians. He has compared the registry to the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act that saw the barring of all Chinese from immigrating to Canada. This comparison draws on the possibility that the broad reach of the registry would result in the stigmatization of all Chinese Canadians on the basis of any links to China. With regards to the consultation process started by the Canadian government, Woo hoped that Chinese-Canadians would use that process to express their concerns with the federal government.
In a letter written on April 18, 2023, to Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino, Woo criticized the proposed registry for using a “catch-all” approach. This “catch-all” approach targeted foreign interference as the work of any country whose ideas are deemed “harmful” or “authoritarian” over concrete evidence. The key flaw of this “catch-all” approach is that the views of individuals or organizations would be held as proof of foreign influence rather than concrete evidence. One example is how Chinese organizations are singled out as being under foreign influence because they campaigned for specific politicians accused of being under Chinese influence.
Already, Québec-based Chinese community associations have been targeted with baseless clams of electoral manipulation by the RCMP. As a result of being targeted by the registry, Woo warns that Chinese Canadians would be further ostracized from society. Growing stigmatization and ostracization would lead to further racist attacks being launched against Chinese Canadians under the banner of opposing CPC influence.
As a result of Canada’s participation in the US-led drive to a hot war against China, there has been increasing xenophobia against Chinese Canadians. Following the outbreak of COVID-19 and the spread of nonsensical far-right conspiracies linking the CPC to the COVID-19 outbreak, hate crimes against Chinese have surged as high as 717 per cent. With the recent investigations by CSIS and the RCMP into baseless claims of “police activity” and “electoral manipulation” by the CPC, Sinophobia has escalated further.
Publicly, stereotypes are being spread mocking Chinese-Canadians in Quebec as “secret police” for the CPC; these stereotypes emerging from baseless accusations of CPC foreign influence being carried through Chinese police-run service centers and Chinese community organizations. On the federal level, Liberal MP Han Dong has chosen to sit as an independent to protect the Liberal party, in response to claims that he had tried to convince Chinese diplomats to not release the “two Michaels”. Dong has vowed to fight against the accusations being flung at him. Dong filed a $15 million CAD defamation lawsuit against Global News on April 20, 2023.
Within the current anti-China political climate, Sinophobia in Canada would be worsened by a wide-reaching registry, with the current “catch-all” approach that is being employed.
Danger of the registry shown by iterations outside of Canada
There is a danger that the foreign influence registry would lead to overreach which infringes on racialized populations. This danger can also be observed in one of the models that the registry is seeking to emulate. As noted by the consultation paper itself, the proposed foreign registry seeks to emulate registry models already deployed in the US, Australia and the United Kingdom. With regards to the US, the Canadian government seeks to emulate America’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
According to international criminal lawyer John Philpot, emulating FARA is dangerous because of FARA’s broad definition of foreign influence. FARA defines foreign influence as anything influencing the US public in adapting the viewpoints of any government the US is opposed to. In addition, FARA imposes disproportionate prison sentences and large fines against anyone suspected on the basis of this broad definition. Philpot cites the arrests of members of the Black revolutionary Uhuru movement and its political wing, the African People’s Socialist party. He notes that the Uhuru movement was prosecuted by a federal grand jury in Tampa for sowing discord at the behest of Russia, when all they did was simply oppose NATO’s proxy war against Russia in Ukraine.
Canada modeling its’ registry in part after FARA, Philpot notes, does not bode well for either political freedoms in Canada or the well-being of Chinese-Canadian communities. This is relevant since much of the allegations targeting Chinese Canadians are propaganda coming from the Security Services (CSIS and the RCMP), drawing on the playbook established by the anti-Chinese intelligence operation known as “Project Sidewinder”. This intelligence operation, long discredited in the 1990s, claimed that the CPC and the triads were working to subvert Canada through exerting political, real estate and corporate influence.
According to Al Jazeera columnist Andrew Mitrovica, who covered Project Sidewinder, the project’s allegations was deemed to be baseless by the then CSIS director. CSIS allegations being uncritically accepted was the basis of editors being sued for defamation in 2015, by Ontario Cabinet minister Michael Chan over baseless accusations linking Chan to the CPC. Looking at the current investigation into claims of Chinese electoral interference, Mitrovica observes many of the same baseless claims being thrown once again targeting the CPC.
Already the US is sharing ideas with Canada on establishing a foreign agent registry. Philpot fears that Canada may adopt policies similar to what is in FARA may well be realized, if a foreign registry targeting supposed foreign influence is set up with American guidance.
Foreign interference from supposed Canadian allies doesn’t count, say consultation details
Petition E-4395 points out that the proposed registry would not target any foreign manipulation carried out by Canada’s supposed allies. This comes regardless of how detrimental these forms of manipulation are to Canadian society. Previous articles on The Canada Files have exposed multiple foreign influence operations run by Canada’s various “allies”. For instance, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a right-wing think tank advocating for a hawkish foreign policy, has been exposed by TCF’s Editor-in-Chief Aidan Jonah as having received funding from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) and the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. Both organizations function as arms of the foreign ministry of the Taiwanese secessionists currently in power in Taiwan.
Since 2018, when TECO started funding the MLI, the already anti-China MLI openly started to tout Taiwanese secessionism. The intensification of already existing anti-China propaganda kicked into gear with the hiring of Duanjie Chen, Eric Lerhe, and later David Kilgour as senior fellows, and continued in 2019 with Hong Kong secessionists like Nathan Law joining the MLI. In 2020, the MLI openly started publishing multiple pro-Taiwan secessionism articles, openly calling for Canada to support Taiwanese secessionism (attacking Canadian support for the One-China principle), and accusing Xi Jinping of influencing Canadian politics.
In addition to receiving funding from the secessionists governing Taiwan, the MLI has also received funding from the Latvian Ministry of Defence since 2017. Following this funding, the MLI intensified anti-Russia propaganda for both NATO and the Latvian military. The MLI called on Canada in 2018 to support NATO’s military mission in Latvia. They would host Latvian government officials in 2019; this being even as the Latvian government was exposed as openly glorifying Nazi collaborators.
The planned registry supposedly targeting foreign influence has received significant criticism for defining “foreign influence” as solely the work of nations opposed to Canadian and American interests (ie. China and Russia). As a result of this intentional government ignorance the funding of the already pro-war MLI by the Taiwanese and Estonian government will be completely ignored by any proposed registry. This is because the Estonian and Taiwanese government are seen as useful proxies to be used by Canada and the US against China and Russia.
The Canadian government allows for countries that do support Canadian interests to exert foreign influence if it can stir up support for a hawkish foreign policy. But alleged interference by Russia and China is of critical concern to the Canadian government. The hypocrisy could not be more obvious.
It is crucial that the efforts launched by both opposition to the foreign registry inside and outside of Canada’s parliament succeed in preventing such a registry from being established on Canadian soil.
Daniel Xie is a firm anti-imperialist, who writes about the need for an anti-imperialist and independent Canadian foreign policy. He serves as the Associate Editor of The Canada Files.