Alleged Chinese Meddling Spurs Foreign Agent Registry in Canada

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government will require people lobbying or otherwise acting on behalf of a foreign government to register that activity publicly, a move that comes after allegations China attempted to meddle in the last two Canadian elections.

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The new law was introduced in Canada’s Parliament on Monday, along with a series of other amendments to make it easier to prosecute illegal foreign influence activity.

Many of Canada’s peer democracies already have a foreign agents registry, including the US and Australia, but Trudeau had hesitated to enact one over concerns it could lead to racist practices.

“One has to only think of the internment of Japanese citizens, or Japanese-Canadians or Italian-Canadians, during the past World Wars to know that we must be very, very careful with these things,” Trudeau said last year when asked about creating a registry.

The activity that could land someone on the registry include lobbying a public official, advertising to the public or distributing funds on behalf of “foreign principals,” which could mean a foreign government or other proscribed foreign organizations. There are several exemptions, including for people who hold a valid diplomatic passport. The government will also create a new commissioner office to oversee the registry and related laws.

In addition, the law will beef up criminal statutes around sabotage directed at “essential infrastructure,” create new criminal offenses for carrying out certain kinds of foreign interference activities and make it easier for security agencies to issue warnings about foreign interference based on classified information.

Over the past few months, a public inquiry has been digging into allegations China meddled in the last two Canadian elections in an attempt to get Beijing-friendly candidates elected. On Friday the inquiry produced a report concluding there were likely some interference activities, but they did not affect the overall result or undermine the integrity of the elections.

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