Foreign Interference and Hostile Activities of State Actors

Classification: Unclassified

Branch/Agency: Organization Name

Proposed Response:

Operation Fox Hunt

Transfer of Canadian-Made Technology and Intellectual Property to Foreign States

Responsive Lines

Threats to Democracy

United Front Work Department

Disinformation and COVID-19

Foreign Interference During 2019 Federal Election

Economic-Based Threats to National Security and Foreign Direct Investment

CSIS Act Modernization


Foreign interference is understood as hostile activity undertaken by foreign states that is purposely covert, malign, clandestine and deceptive. It can include threats, harassment and intimidation. These activities can be directed at Canadians, or residents of Canada, or against Canadian institutions to advance their strategic interests at the expense of our national interest and values.

Through its mandate to investigate threats to the security of Canada, CSIS has seen multiple instances of foreign states targeting Canadian institutions and communities. 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.

The PRC is one of the main actors perpetrating foreign interference and hostile activities in Canada. At previous committee hearings, members of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations have inquired about issues including: elite capture, the harassment and intimidation of communities, Operation Fox Hunt and the PRC’s 2017 National Intelligence Law.

Your open letter to all Members of Parliament, outlining the threat of foreign interference, and what the Government is doing to address it, was sent on December 18, 2020 in response to the motion introduced in the House of Commons by Mr. Michael Chong (Wellington—Halton Hills) that was passed on November 18, 2020. The motion reads: That, given that (i) the People’s Republic of China, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, is threatening Canada’s national interest and our values, including Canadians of Chinese origin within Canada’s borders, (ii) it is essential that Canada have a strong and principled foreign policy backed by action in concert with its allies, the House call upon the government to: (a) make a decision on Huawei’s involvement in Canada’s 5G network within 30 days of the adoption of this motion; and (b) develop a robust plan, as Australia has done, to combat China’s growing foreign operations here in Canada and its increasing intimidation of Canadians living in Canada, and table it within 30 days of the adoption of this motion.

The letter pointed to the PRC as being particularly active in Canada. It was also tabled in the House of Commons on January 25, 2021. 

Operation Fox Hunt

The PRC and other foreign states attempt to threaten and intimidate individuals around the world through various state entities and non-state proxies. These states may use a combination of their intelligence and security services as well as trusted agents to assist them in foreign interference activity on Canadian soil.

While some states may attempt to threaten and intimidate individuals in the name of fighting corruption or to bring criminals to justice, these tactics can also be used as cover for silencing dissent, pressuring political opponents and instilling a general fear of state power no matter where a person is located. The PRC’s Operation Fox Hunt is one such example. The PRC uses this program as a means to identify and try to repatriate to China individuals who they allege are corrupt. The PRC has conducted this operation in Canada since 2014. Initially, Canada worked with Chinese officials to support their investigations, however, increasingly stringent criteria on the PRC investigators involved in this program have been added, beginning in 2015.

PRC’s National Intelligence Law

CSIS is increasingly concerned about the threat that the PRC represents to Canada and Canadian interests. The PRC 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.

On June 28, 2017, the National People’s Congress passed the National Intelligence Law which  codifies existing practice and adds significant new principles. Under the National Intelligence Law, citizens have a duty to support, assist and cooperate with state intelligence work.

United Front Work Department

The United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist Party is used by the PRC to stifle criticism, infiltrate foreign political parties, diaspora communities, universities and multinational corporations. The UFWD’s importance to the Chinese Communist Party has grown in recent years under President Xi, as 40,000 new staff have been added.

Reporting Foreign Interference

When foreign states target members of Canadian communities, these individuals, for various reasons, may not have the means to protect themselves or do not know they can report these activities to Canadian authorities. The fear of state-backed or state-linked retribution targeting both them and their loved ones, in Canada and abroad, can force individuals to submit to 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. Furthermore, criminal activity that is reported to law enforcement and that involves a national security nexus is investigated by the RCMP.

Transfer of Canadian-Made Technology and Intellectual Property to Foreign States

As an advanced economy and an open and free democracy, foreign threat actors have long targeted Canada and Canadians in order to advance their interests at our expense. Canadian companies, in almost all sectors of our economy, have been targeted. They have been compromised and have suffered losses from human- and cyber-enabled threats. In particular, Canada’s research and development, and advanced technology sectors, face particularly severe threat activity.

There has also been an increase in the exploitation of cyber tools to steal sensitive information, conduct ransomware attacks and cause disruption. State cyber actors will continue to target sensitive and proprietary data that resides on Canadian networks, and continue to deploy highly-creative tradecraft.

Given the threat environment, Budget 2019 made investments to safeguard against economic-based national security threats, including the ability to “safeguard against theft of our Canadian intellectual property and Canadian-made technologies, and against Canada’s research and development activities being used as ‘back-door’ channels to obtain sensitive Canadian technologies”.

To effectively safeguard against these threats, there is a need for a government-wide understanding of sensitive technologies with national security implications, and a lasting approach to their identification. As such, Public Safety Canada launched the interdepartmental Sensitive Technology Working Group in 2019 to bring together technology and national security experts from across government to develop a coherent, made-in-Canada approach to understanding the nexus between technology and national security.

Threats to Democracy

Democratic institutions and processes, including elections, are vulnerable and valuable targets for hostile activities by state actors. Canada is not immune to these threat activities. Certain state actors, including the PRC, seek to manipulate and abuse Canada’s democratic system to further their own national interests, or to discredit Canada’s democratic institutions to erode public confidence. For example, state actors have sought to clandestinely target politicians, political parties, electoral nomination processes, and media outlets in order to influence the Canadian public and democratic processes.

The Government of Canada’s security and intelligence community is combatting these threats within their respective mandates. CSIS is working closely with other government partners, inside and outside the security and intelligence community, to address clandestine, deceptive or threatening interference activities that can pose significant harm to our democratic institutions and processes. 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.

Disinformation and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided foreign threat actors with unique opportunities to advance their objectives, to the detriment of Canada’s national interest. State-sponsored information manipulation utilized by certain regimes to reshape or undermine the rules-based-international order is of particular concern. These states are manipulating and using disinformation to sow doubt on the origins of the virus and the means required to counter it; to discredit democratic responses to COVID-19 while casting their own as superior; and to erode confidence in democratic values and human rights. They are also leveraging ideologically-motivated fringe narratives and conspiracies to polarize societies, undermine trust in democratically-elected governments, and deflect blame for mishandling the pandemic.

It is important to note that disinformation, originating from anywhere in the world, can have serious consequences including threats to the safety and security of Canadians, erosion of trust in our democratic institutions, and confusion about government policies and notices, including information on the COVID-19 pandemic. State-sponsored disinformation campaigns are an example of foreign interference.

Information manipulation, in particular disinformation, has been a subject of international collaboration in the context of COVID-19. Canada has discussed the threat and possible responses across a variety of bilateral and multilateral engagements and fora. For example, the G7 Rapid Response Mechanism has enabled real-time information and assessment sharing, as well as the coordination of strategies to counter COVID-19 related disinformation. You represent Canada at the Five-Country Ministerial, an annual forum where Five Eyes security ministers meet to discuss opportunities for collaboration and information sharing on various national security issues, including foreign interference. These discussions often include the sharing of respective approaches to shared issues, and the coordination of a cohesive Five Eyes responses.

Canadian security and intelligence partners are collaborating to share information and to leverage their mandates in an effort to disrupt hostile activities by state actors, including by leveraging the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) Task Force, composed of officials from CSE, CSIS, RCMP and GAC.

 Foreign Interference During 2019 Elections

In an effort to counter foreign interference against the 2019 Federal Election, the Government created the SITE Task Force. As members of the SITE Task Force, CSIS was involved in efforts to raise awareness and assess foreign interference threats against the 2019 federal elections, and the RCMP provided law enforcement expertise. The SITE Task Force remains after the 2019 Federal Election, as threats to democratic institutions, such as foreign interference and disinformation, have not abated.

Economic-Based Threats to National Security and Foreign Direct Investment

Chinese investment into Canada has fallen in recent years, consistent with its global outward investment trends. While the Investment Canada Act (ICA) is country-agnostic, Canada has taken action against Chinese state-owned investment under the national security provisions of the Act; this has included publicly noted actions to prevent the acquisition of Canadian companies Aecon in 2018 and TMAC Resources in 2020.

CSIS is a prescribed investigative body under the national security provisions of the ICA and conducts investigative efforts related to national security concerns arising from foreign investment. CSIS works with partners to provide advice in support of this process. The RCMP also participates in the national security review of foreign investment process under the ICA, to offer a law enforcement perspective, and to assess if there are potential criminal linkages to certain foreign investment proposals. The process may result in a Governor in Council divesture order or impose mitigation conditions on investments that would be injurious to Canada’s national security. As reported in the 2018-19 ICA Annual Report, for the four fiscal years 2015-16 to 2018-19 the Governor in Council issued eight 25.4 final orders: six blocking or ordering the foreign investor to divest of its investment and two imposing conditions that protect national security while allowing those investments to proceed.

CSIS Act Modernization

CSIS has two main collection authorities: section 12 which relates to threats to the security of Canada (e.g. terrorism, espionage, foreign interference); and section 16 which relates to the intentions and capabilities of foreign states (e.g. foreign intelligence), and is undertaken at the request of either the Minister of National Defence, or the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Legislative History

The CSIS Act has been amended several times in recent years to update CSIS’ authorities as threats evolved including:

C-44: Section 12 amended to clarify that CSIS can carry out section 12 investigations anywhere in the world and not just in Canada.
C-51: Addition of the threat reduction power which allows CSIS to take action to reduce threats under section 12.1, including a warranted power to limit the exercise of a Canadian’s Charter rights in certain circumstances.
C-59: Addition of section 11 which creates a statutory regime allowing CSIS to collect datasets to aid its work under its other core mandates; creation of section 20.1 which allows CSIS to engage in acts or omissions that would otherwise constitute offences for the purpose of intelligence collection under section 12 and section 16; and the clarification of certain aspects of the warranted threat reduction power.


Prepared by: NSOD

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

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