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Statements and Speeches

Remarks of the Chief Electoral Officer before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs Foreign interference

November 1, 2022

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Thank you, Madam Chair, for the opportunity to speak with the Committee.

The threat of interference by foreign actors in elections is a matter of great concern, as it strikes at the very heart of the ideal of electoral democracy. Foreign interference—and, in particular, interference by foreign states—is an affront to Canada's sovereignty and the sovereignty of its citizens as expressed through the electoral process.

I should state, at the outset, that, during the past two general elections, Elections Canada did not experience any breaches to its IT infrastructure or interference with our electoral operations. We are also unaware of efforts by foreign actors to undermine the ability of electors to vote.

The expression "foreign interference" refers not to any particular activity but to a source of threat, which can take different forms: cyberattacks, illicit funding of candidates, parties or third parties, disinformation campaigns, even intimidation.

Because of the diversity of means though which it can occur, but also because it involves state-to-state relationships, addressing foreign interference in our electoral process requires efforts by a range of agencies and departments.

Today, I will talk about Elections Canada's partnerships with other agencies in this area, as well as our specific role and our governing legal framework.

The Canada Elections Act

It is important to note that the Canada Elections Act does not define foreign interference. Rather, the Act prohibits the involvement of foreigners in our elections in specific ways that are primarily related to the political financing regime.

For instance, only an individual who is a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident may contribute. Foreigners are prohibited from registering as third parties, and third parties are prohibited from using foreign funds for their regulated activities.

The Act also prohibits certain activities as representing "undue influence by foreigners," such as incurring any expense to directly promote or oppose a candidate or a registered party during the election. However, the Act recognizes that foreigners can have some level of influence, for example, by making a statement encouraging electors to vote for a specific candidate or registered party.

Elections Canada's role

The role of Elections Canada is to administer elections and protect them from threats, irrespective of their source. This includes taking appropriate steps, with the advice and support of security partners, in protecting election IT infrastructure. Elections Canada has made significant progress in that area in recent years. We are also fortunate to be able to receive ongoing support from the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, including close monitoring of our infrastructure.

Another key role for Elections Canada is to ensure that electors have correct information about the electoral process. This includes information necessary to register and vote, as well as information that allows them to trust the electoral process and its results.

To counter the spread of inaccurate information about the electoral process—whether its source is foreign or domestic—Elections Canada continually monitors publicly available information. When inaccurate information is detected in news media, the Internet or social media, it is addressed by communicating correct information.

It is important to note that our focus is on content related to the voting process and electoral administration. My mandate is not to scrutinize or police what is said about party or candidate platforms by individuals or media organizations, whether domestic or foreign.

Security partnerships

Protecting the security of our elections is a team effort and requires a whole-of-government approach. Elections Canada has been actively working with a variety of Government of Canada intelligence and security agencies whose role includes detecting and responding to, potential foreign interference, especially interference by state actors. These include the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Communications Security Establishment, among others.

Together we have developed protocols and practices for discussing threats to an election, sharing information when necessary, and ensuring that each of us is properly prepared to play our own role in the promotion of electoral security.

I note that the Committee will be hearing from representatives of Canada's security and intelligence agencies. They will be best positioned to speak to matters relevant to their own mandates.

Thank you for inviting me today. I welcome your questions.