Foreign Interference

Date: November 24, 2020

Classification: Unclassified

Branch/Agency: NSCB/PS


Public engagement and awareness efforts by the Government of Canada related to threats posed by espionage and foreign interference.

Proposed Response:

Foreign Interference


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.

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.

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. To protect sectors critical to Canada’s COVID-19 response, CSIS has launched an outreach operation aimed at sensitizing these sectors from the threat they could face from foreign interference and espionage. These sectors include the biopharmaceutical industry, healthcare, supply chains, and research and development. For example, last summer, CSIS delivered a presentation on espionage and foreign interference threats to BIOTech Canada, an industry association representing Canada’s biopharma sector.

On September 14, 2020 the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Public Safety, and Health released a statement encouraging all members of the research community to take extra precautions to protect the security of COVID-19-related research, intellectual property and knowledge development. The statement reinforces it is critical that research undertaken in Canada, by Canadians, with Canadian funding is safeguarded to protect both the integrity of our research ecosystem and long-term economic competitiveness and prosperity. It also notes that the Government has instructed federal research funding agencies to review their security policies and processes and to promote awareness of best practices and tools. The government also launched the Safeguarding Your Research portal on the same date to support Canada’s research community.

In addition, Public Safety Canada has established a Federal, Provincial and Territorial Community of Practice on Economic-based national security threats to bring together key officials at the working level from across these jurisdictions to discuss national security threats that arise through economic activities. This includes, for example, threats arising from foreign direct investment, trade and exports, and the transfer or acquisition of Canadian intellectual property, knowledge, rights and licenses.

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.

When CSIS is informed of allegations of foreign interference, it uses the full mandate of the CSIS Act to investigate, advise and respond to the threat, alongside law enforcement, to keep Canadians safe from harm and intimidation. CSIS is also working closely with other government partners, inside and outside the security and intelligence community, to address clandestine or deceptive interference activities that can pose significant harm to our democratic institutions and processes. As a member of the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections Task Force, CSIS was involved in efforts to raise awareness and assess foreign interference threats against the 2019 federal elections.


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

Date modified: