Foreign Interference

Date: October 29, 2020
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Fully releasable (ATIP)? Yes
Branch / Agency: NSCB/PS


To provide an overview of Canada’s security and intelligence community’s efforts to counter foreign interference, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Proposed Response:


Foreign interference and espionage includes any efforts by a foreign state, or its proxies, to undermine Canada’s national interest and values. It includes actions that are short of armed conflict yet deceptive, threatening, corrupt, covert or illegal in nature. Foreign states leverage hostile activities to advance their strategic interests including: seeking geopolitical influence, economic advancement, revision of the rules-based international order, domestic stability, and military advantage.

Over the years, CSIS has seen multiple instances of foreign states targeting specific Canadian institutions. The scope of potential foreign interference activities can be broad, encompassing a range of techniques that are familiar to intelligence agencies. These include: human intelligence operations, the use of state-sponsored or foreign influenced media, and the use of sophisticated cyber tools.

Several recent reports have highlighted the threat of foreign interference in Canada. For example, the 2019 CSIS Public Report, released on May 20, 2020, states that espionage and foreign-influenced activities are almost always conducted to further the interests of a foreign state, using both state and non-state entities. Espionage and foreign-influenced activities are directed at Canadian entities both inside and outside of Canada, and directly threaten Canada’s national security and strategic interests. Democratic institutions and processes around the world—including elections—are vulnerable and have become targets for international actors. Further, the Annual Report of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) outlined foreign interference activities, including the targeting of Canadian institutions by threat actors. The NSICOP report pointed to China and Russia as being particularly active in Canada and made a number of recommendations for Canada to bolster its response to the threat of foreign interference.

CSIS is increasingly concerned about the threat that the Government of China represents to Canada and Canadian interests. China has the capacity to conduct foreign interference activities in Canada by applying pressure and influence in a clandestine and deceptive manner to pursue its strategic objectives. Notably, China can compel its private citizens and firms anywhere in the world to assist such efforts under its 2017 National Intelligence Law.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided foreign threat actors with unique opportunities to advance their objectives, to the detriment of Canada’s national interest. The impacts of disinformation, economic-based national security threats including the theft of intellectual property, and threats to Canada's supply chain are ongoing national security concerns. In light of this, CSIS is working with these organizations to ensure that their work and proprietary information remains safely in their control.

We know that certain governments and their proxies are prepared to use illicit means to obtain goods and technology to advance their interests. These proxies could include state-owned enterprises, academic institutions/institutes, trade organizations or other entities that are not considered part of the state itself but may still serve its interests.

Canada also has observed state-sponsored information manipulation employed by certain regimes aimed at reshaping or undermining the rules-based-international order. These states are manipulating information, including employing disinformation, to sow doubt about the origins of the virus and the means required to counter it; discredit democratic responses to COVID-19 while casting their own as superior; and erode confidence in values of democracy and human rights.

In the current economic environment shaped by COVID-19, the Government of Canada is applying increased scrutiny to all foreign direct investments, controlling or non-controlling, into Canadian businesses that are vital to public health and the security of supply of critical goods and services to Canadians or to the Government of Canada. Further, at this time the Government of Canada will also subject all foreign investments by state owned enterprises, or private investors assessed as being closely tied to or subject to direction from foreign governments, to enhanced scrutiny under the national security provisions of the Investment Canada Act. From a law enforcement perspective, foreign interference activities can be investigated when criminal or illegal activity is involved.

The Government of Canada’s security and intelligence community is combatting these threats within their respective mandates. For example, CSIS has longstanding investigations into foreign interference threat activities targeting democratic processes and institutions across Canada. The provision of CSIS intelligence and assessments to senior levels of government allows for informed decision making when responding to and developing policies to address these threats. Likewise, the RCMP has a broad, multi-faceted mandate that allows it to investigate, and prevent foreign interference drawing upon various legislation.


Prepared by: NSOD
Approved by: Dominic Rochon, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, 613-990-4976 (pending)

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