The Policy Corner: of mice and foreign interference

Image supplied by: Noah Lee
Liberals search for votes in Atlantic Canada.

Canadian elections may soon fall victim to the same fate as unsuspecting Lennie in the 1937 novel Of Mice and Men. 

Written by John Steinbeck, the book tells the fictional story of George and Lennie searching for employment during the Great Depression. Along the way, Lennie, who doesn’t know his own strength, accidentally snaps the neck of a woman which prompts a lynch mob to chase them. 

Foreseeing Lennie’s fate in the hands of the mob, George shoots him in the back of the head in an act of twisted mercy. Poor Lennie never saw it coming. 

Unlike Lennie, Canada knows that a loaded gun is aimed at them.

Earlier this year, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) raised the alarm on Chinese foreign interference in Canada’s elections. A series of intelligence leaks from whistleblowers within CSIS brought to light these concerns. The leaks alleged China provided funding to 11 candidates in 2019 and donated to political campaigns under the table. 

The anonymous informants claimed public interest outweighed the risks to their jobs.

False narratives about Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Michael Chong were shared by users on the Chinese social media WeChat. Along with that, CSIS recently alerted NDP MP Jenny Kwan that she is a target of the Chinese government. All this comes amidst the dramatic backdrop of TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s hearing in US Congress and the banning of the application on government officials’ electronic devices. 

The Trudeau government’s initial handling of this issue, which involved the appointment of Special Rapporteur David Johnston, who recommended public hearings as opposed to a public inquiry, has been criticized by both the NDP and the Conservative Party. But as Canada announces a public inquiry into election interference, we must now move swiftly to collaboratively enact solutions that will address this serious issue.

One solution would be to introduce a Foreign Agent Registry—similar to the Foreign Agents Registration Act in the US—which requires foreign agents to disclose their domestic political activities, such as lobbying, and relationships with foreign states. Foreign agents are sometimes high-profile individuals who seek to push foreign political agendas by influencing government officials and decision-makers. 

This registry would empower Canadians with the ability to evaluate foreign agents, after having knowledge of their ties to foreign entities. Surely all of you have had someone in your life who hid details that you would’ve preferred to know before getting close to them—this is no different. 

Parliament passed a motion to introduce a bill addressing a possible registry later this year—the motion was completely opposed by the Liberal Party. 

One possibility behind the Liberals’ opposition is found in Liberal MP Chandra Arya’s petition which cites that a potential law could pose “serious harassment and stigmatization risk for racialized communities.” A letter sent to the ex-Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino by a senator backing the petition, invoked the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923, suggesting a registry would be similar. 

NDP MP Jenny Kwan—yes, the one who is actually being targeted by foreign interference—implored in a petition of her own that a registry be implemented as soon as possible. She stated that comparing a  Foreign Agent Registry to the racist Chinese Exclusion Act is a false comparison. The historic racist law targeted all Chinese people, a Foreign Agent Registry would apply to anyone, Canadian or not, who lobby on behalf of any foreign government. 

I don’t think this is a race issue. 

Parliament recommenced this past week—let’s see what is done to deal with this critical issue.

Knowledge is power, and we know that foreign interference is happening right here in Canada. Unlike Lennie, we need to disarm the threat we face before serious damage is inflicted on our democracy. 


Canadian Parliament, Column, Policy

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