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House Committee leaves huge loopholes and weak enforcement system in so-called anti-foreign interference Bill C-70

Loopholes allow for secret interference in party leadership contests, and secret communications with nomination and leadership contestants and political party officials, and by using lobbyists, family members, friends and officials as “proxies” for influence communications etc.

Proposed new enforcement Commissioner will be too much under the control of ruling party Cabinet, ineffective, secretive and unaccountable

Other loopholes in election, political finance, lobbying and ethics rules also need to be closed to prevent interference and misinformation

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch criticized MPs from all parties on the House of Commons Public Safety and National Security Committee for rolling over and leaving huge loopholes in anti-foreign interference Bill C-70 that allow for ongoing secret foreign interference and influence activities, and failing to make enforcement independent, effective, transparent and accountable.  Click here to see the Committee’s report to the House of Commons listing the very few amendments they made to Bill C-70.

Last week, Democracy Watch filed a summary submission with the Public Safety Committee listing the key changes needed to close loopholes in the prohibitions and requirements to disclose foreign interference and influence activities in the proposed new Foreign Influence Registry (FIR), and to make the proposed new Foreign Influence Transparency (FIT) Commissioner independent of the ruling party, empowered to enforce the rules effectively, required to issue public rulings and impose penalties for violations in every case, and accountable to the courts to ensure the Commissioner enforces the rules properly.  DWatch also filed a full submission with the committees detailing the key changes and why they are needed.

Click here to see Democracy Watch’s summary submission on Bill C-70 in English.  Cliquez ici pour voir le résumé de la soumission en français.  Click here to see the full submission (in English only).

If the loopholes in Bill C-70 are not closed by the full House at third reading or by the Senate, the following foreign interference and influence activities will continue to be legal, and foreign agents will not be required to register and disclose the following activities in the Foreign Influence Registry (FIR):

1. Activities undertaken by businesses and organizations;

2. Activities to interfere in political party leadership contests;

3. Communications with nomination contestants and party leadership contestants who are not MPs or Cabinet ministers;

4. Communications with election candidates who are not Cabinet ministers;

5. Communications with people who have been elected as MPs or appointed as Senators but have not yet taken office;

6. Communications with territorial politicians and public officials, and provincial and municipal government appointees;

7. Communications with judges and lieutenant governors;

8. A foreign agent using a lobbyist as a “proxy” for their influence activities (many changes are needed to the federal Lobbying Act and provincial, territorial and municipal lobbying laws to prevent this by prohibiting secret lobbying), and;

9. A foreign agent using staff, volunteers, friends, family members and close associates of contestants, candidates, parties and riding associations as a “proxy” for their secret influence activities.

In addition, Bill C-70 gives the federal Cabinet dangerously broad discretion to:

1. Choose candidates for FIT Commissioner through a secretive, partisan and political process;

2. Exclude foreign interference arrangements from the list of prohibited activities that are also required to be disclosed;

3. Exclude public officials from the list of people foreign agents are required to disclose if they communicate with them;

4. Limit the amount of information required to be disclosed in the FIR and to not require regular updates, and;

5. Decide when the provisions that establish the FIT Commissioner and the FIR will come into force, and be extended to provincial, municipal and Indigenous politicians and public officials and, if amended, also territorial politicians and public officials (there are no deadlines in the Bill).

In terms of enforcement, if key changes are not made to Bill C-70, the proposed new Foreign Influence Transparency (FIT) Commissioner will lack independence, not be effective, and will be allowed to bury cases with secret decisions, and will not be accountable if they fail to enforce the rules (like the federal Ethics Commissioner and Commissioner of Lobbying for the past 20 years) because they will be:

1. Partisan and political because they will be handpicked behind closed doors by the ruling party Cabinet, with little input from opposition parties, and serving Cabinet in a government department instead of being an Officer of Parliament;

2. Not necessarily serving a full 7-year term because Cabinet can shorten it;

3. Encouraged to please the ruling party towards the end of their term because the ruling party Cabinet has the sole power to re-appoint them;

4. Ineffective because they will not be required to do regular, unannounced audits to catch violators;

5. Secretive because they will not be required to issue public rulings with reasons on every situation they review, and;

6. Unaccountable because it is unclear in Bill C-70 whether their decisions and actions can be challenged in court if they fail to do their job properly.

Also re: enforcement, given the RCMP and FINTRAC lack independence from the ruling party Cabinet, and the RCMP has been ineffective and secretive in the SNC-Lavalin and Aga Khan scandals, and in enforcing the federal lobbying law and anti-money laundering law, and FINTRAC has been ineffective as well:

7. Democracy Watch’s submission calls for a new, fully independent, effective, transparent and accountable anti-foreign interference, anti-corruption and anti-money laundering police force to be established.

“If loopholes in the bill are not closed, secret, unethical and undemocratic foreign interference in elections, party leadership races, parties and government policy-making processes will continue to be legal across Canada, and enforcement will be weak, ineffective, secretive and too much under the control of the ruling party Cabinet,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Many other changes are needed beyond a foreign agent registry to actually stop foreign interference.  Last year the lobbying commissioner gutted ethical lobbying rules, and MPs added a loophole to their ethics code so foreign-sponsored lobby groups can sponsor intern spies in their offices.  Those changes, combined with the existing loopholes in Canada’s election, political donation and spending, lobbying and ethics laws, make it even easier than it was in the past for foreign governments, businesses and organizations to influence Canadian politics and politicians in secret, including by making false claims on social media sites.”

“All our key democracy and anti-corruption laws, including laws aimed at stopping foreign interference, are enforced by weak lapdogs who are handpicked by the ruling party Cabinet, operate largely in secret and lack powers and accountability for doing their jobs properly,” said Conacher.  “If Bill C-70 is not changed in key ways, the new foreign interference commissioner will be another  partisan, ineffective, secretive and unaccountable lapdog.”

Click here to see the Backgrounder that summarizes all the loopholes and weak enforcement problems that make foreign interference legal and easy to do across Canada at every level of government.  Click here to see summary list of 17 key changes that need to be made to stop foreign interference.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Stop Foreign Interference in Canadian Politics Campaign page and Stop Secret Unethical Lobbying Campaign page