Foreign Interference – Foreign Agent Registry

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

Fully releasable (ATIP)? Yes

Branch/Agency: NSCB/PS

Proposed Response:


Foreign governments and entities regularly seek to influence Government of Canada policies, officials or democratic processes in lawful and transparent ways in Canada, including through routine diplomatic engagement. However, some foreign states engage in acts of foreign interference to advance foreign political interests and influence federal officials and decision-makers. As part of these efforts, they may employ individuals, some of whom may be high profile, to act on their behalf without disclosing ties to the foreign state.

Both the United States and Australia have foreign agent registries that require those acting on behalf of a foreign state to register their activities. The United Kingdom has also announced plans to introduce a similar regime. At previous committee hearings, members of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations have made inquiries about the possibility of Canada adopting a foreign agent registry.

Australia – Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act (FITS)

FITS was enacted in December 2018. It is intended to increase transparency of foreign influence on Australia’s government and politics. The scheme is administered by the Attorney General’s Office.

FITS establishes registration obligations for individuals and entities that undertake certain activities on behalf of foreign principals. These include activities for the purpose of "political or governmental influence". That term is broadly defined in the Act and includes any influence over matters such as federal elections or votes, or the decision making processes of Government of Australia. Communications to the public or financial support for the purpose of influencing governmental decision making processes are also registrable activities under FITS. The registry is not intended to restrict or criminalize lawful activities that may benefit foreign principals (governments, entities or individuals). Of note, former cabinet ministers have a lifetime obligation to register any activity they undertake on behalf of a foreign principal unless an exemption applies.

An individual acting on behalf of a foreign principal can be penalized for failing to register or update information with the AGO, misleading or lying to authorities, or destroying relevant records. Penalties for violations under the FITS range from fines to prison terms of six months to five years.

United States - Foreign Agent Registry Act (FARA)

FARA was enacted in 1938 and requires certain individuals acting on behalf of foreign principals (governments, entities or individuals) who are engaged in political activities or other activities under the statute to register as a “foreign agent” with the Department of Justice. The Act also requires foreign agents to make periodic public disclosures of their relationships with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.

The central purpose of FARA is to promote transparency regarding foreign influence in the United States by ensuring the government and the public know the source of certain information from foreign agents intended to influence American public opinion, policy and decision-making.  

The penalty for willful violation of FARA is maximum of five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000. There are also civil enforcement provisions that empower the United States Attorney General to seek an injunction requiring registration under FARA. Since 2016, FARA violations have resulted in Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) counter-intelligence investigations, some of which have led to criminal charges and/or immigration proceedings against foreign agents and foreign principals.


Prepared by: NSOD

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

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