Foreign Interference

Date: March 24, 2021
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Fully releasable (ATIP)? Yes
Branch / Agency: NSCB/PS

Proposed Response:


On March 24, 2021, the Globe and Mail published a report quoting a Public Safety spokesperson stating that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) had removed eight individuals deemed inadmissible on security grounds in 2020. The countries of origin of the foreign nationals removed from Canada are not specified in the report, however, reasons a person may be removed from Canada for security grounds may include espionage, subversion, terrorism and/or for membership in groups involved in such activities.

The removals process plays a critical role in supporting Canada’s immigration and refugee determination system. The removal of someone from Canada follows a complex series of processes and recourse mechanisms that afford foreign nationals due process and it is only after such processes have been exhausted that the CBSA can remove a person from Canada.


Calendar Year

Security Cases –
Section 34 IRPA











































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.

Several 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 2019 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 (2019) 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.

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.

Threats to Democracy

Canada 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.

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.

In an effort to counter foreign interference against the 2019 Federal Election, the Government created the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) Task Force, composed of officials from CSE, CSIS, RCMP and GAC. 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.

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.

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.

Threats to Communities

The People’s Republic of China and other foreign states routinely 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 states may attempt to threaten and intimidate individuals in order to pursue 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.

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.

These activities constitute a threat to Canada’s sovereignty and to the safety of Canadians. 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.

Threats to the Economy and Research Sector

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.

Direct engagement between Canadian universities, federal laboratories and security institutions on the risks posed by foreign interference has been ongoing since 2016 through the Safeguarding Science initiative led by Public Safety Canada, in partnership with 10 other federal departments. This initiative aims to raise awareness within Canada’s research communities of the risks of proliferation; dual-use technology; research security; and cybersecurity. The initiative informs participants about tools to help recognize and mitigate the risks Canadian institutions are facing, including those posed to their research and development. Thus far, Safeguarding Science presentations have been delivered to 34 institutions and 16 federal labs across the country. Expansion efforts are also underway to deliver additional tools and guidance to the research community, along with more workshops from coast-to-coast and within the private sector and with Provincial/Territorial partners.

In addition, Public Safety Canada has established a Federal, Provincial and Territorial Community of Practice on Economic-based Threats to National Security 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.

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 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 that 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. The portal provides information, best practices and tools to help researchers identify and mitigate potential security risks to their work.

Finally, 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 (ICA). 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.


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

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