Commissioner of Canada Elections Annual Report 2022
Topics of interest
Allegations of foreign interference in federal elections
In recent years, the threat of foreign interference in our democratic processes has become a major concern for many Canadians. During the fall of 2022, allegations of foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 general elections circulated in the public environment. The Commissioner and her staff take all allegations of foreign interference very seriously.
The CCE and foreign interference
- The term “foreign interference” does not appear in the Act, yet certain prohibitions specifically target foreigners. For example, the Act contains prohibitions on undue influence by foreigners and spending by foreign third parties.
- Other prohibitions apply to everyone, including Canadians. These could amount to foreign interference if committed by a foreigner. This is the case, for example, with the prohibition on offering a bribe to influence an elector, which becomes “foreign interference” if the act of offering a bribe is committed by a non-Canadian.
- The Act defines the mandate of the Commissioner and her office. The CCE may only review allegations covered by the contraventions provided for in the Act.
- The scope of contraventions is narrow and limited to the wording of each of these. For example, the Act covers intimidation of voters, not candidates, and intimidation is limited to specific behaviors.
- The CCE can lay criminal charges and impose administrative monetary penalties for matters of foreign interference.
In 2022, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) undertook a study on foreign interference in federal elections. On November 1, 2022, the Commissioner testified before this parliamentary committee to describe her mandate and answer questions from Parliamentarians.
After the Commissioner first appeared before PROC, several media reports circulated in the public environment, and complaints alleging foreign interference were made to the office.
Review of foreign interference allegations by the CCE
Generally speaking, due to the Act’s confidentiality rules, the Commissioner does not confirm having received a complaint or initiated a review or an investigation on a particular issue. These rules are intended to protect the presumption of innocence and to avoid compromising ongoing investigations. However, it is clear that the issue of foreign interference weighs heavily on Canadians’ trust in Canada’s institutions and the democratic process. For that reason, and as a means of increasing transparency and of reassuring Canadians, the Commissioner decided, on an exceptional basis, to disclose that her office was conducting a thorough review of foreign interference complaints. Although this extensive review was announced in 2023 commissioner’s second appearance, the work related to this issue began in 2022. The text of the Commissioner’s speeches at these two parliamentary appearances is available on the CCE website.
At the time of publication of this report, no formal measures have been taken. It is worth noting that the review to determine if there were contraventions of the Act is being conducted independently of the government, other government or public institutions, the CEO and all political participants.
It remains too early to determine the outcome of the ongoing work and if the review will lead to formal measures. However, depending on the facts and circumstances of the file, the Commissioner may decide to inform Canadians in due course.
The importance of collaboration with our partners and other stakeholders
The presence of foreign elements in a review or an investigation – such as foreign activities, people or entities – can significantly increase the complexity of the CCE’s work, as well as the time and resources required to complete it. This reality, however, goes beyond foreign interference issues or the office. As such, the CCE continually works to maintain existing collaborative relationships with other stakeholders, and to establish new ones relevant to her mandate, both within and outside government.
The Commissioner recognizes the importance of collaboration. The CCE has memoranda of understanding with several partners, including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC). The CCE collaborates with other stakeholders that play a key role in safeguarding the integrity of elections, such as the Communications Security Establishment, Global Affairs Canada and many others.
Although the Commissioner’s work is carried out independently, this collaboration helps to ensure compliance with, and enforcement of, the Act more effectively, and enables a government-wide response to an issue in which various stakeholders play an important role. Through this collaborative effort, the Commissioner is able to obtain information that is crucial to fulfilling her mandate, and to stay informed of any developments in investigative practices or trends of interest.
The Commissioner underscores the need to continue to improve communication channels and information-sharing with stakeholders as part of her compliance and enforcement work. This topic may be the subject of future recommendations for amendments to the Act.
Foreign interference: Understanding the roles of the CCE, CSIS and RCMP
The expression “foreign interference” is commonly used to refer to a wide array of circumstances. Foreign interference is a threat to Canada’s national security and, depending on the activities or circumstances, may also threaten the integrity of our elections.
Foreign interference is a complex issue that may go beyond the elements regulated by the Act. Safeguarding the integrity of our elections requires the participation and collaboration of a wide range of partners and stakeholders, as well as all Canadians.
We all have a role to play.
In the context of federal elections, foreign interference activities for which the Commissioner may take action are very specific. When allegations are made pertaining to the Act, the CCE may conduct a review or an investigation.
CSIS is responsible for collecting and analyzing intelligence on foreign influenced activities that are detrimental to Canada’s interests and are clandestine or deceptive or involve a threat to any person. It may report threats to the CCE.
The RCMP is responsible for investigating criminal acts and foreign interference situations in general, not only those related to federal elections. However, if the activity amounts to a contravention of the Act, only the Commissioner can lay criminal charges or issue a notice of violation.
Help safeguard federal elections in Canada
Beyond the collaborative work of the Commissioner and her partners, Canadians can also help safeguard Canada’s democratic system by reporting any situation that may contravene the rules of the Act, including any foreign interference in federal elections.
To support their complaints, individuals are encouraged to contact the CCE as soon as possible and should provide tangible information containing as many details as possible.
Recommendations for legislative change
The Act states that after a general election, the Commissioner may propose legislative amendments to improve the Act’s compliance and enforcement regime.
In keeping with this requirement, in June 2022 the outgoing Commissioner, Yves Côté, published a Recommendations Report setting out the legislative amendments that, in his opinion, were desirable for better compliance with, and enforcement of, the Act.
The current Commissioner supports her predecessor’s recommendations. She also intends to make additional recommendations to Parliament that would provide the tools and resources needed to ensure that the Act is respected and to safeguard the integrity of elections.
For example, the following themes may be included in future legislative recommendations from the Commissioner:
- Expand the scope of the AMP regime to cover more of the Act’s provisions beyond those proposed by the outgoing Commissioner, including on foreign interference, and to remove proof of intent for administrative contraventions;
- Increase the maximum AMP amount, which will also require increasing the fines that the court can impose to ensure that AMPs do not exceed fines;
- Add authorities to collect evidence from individuals or companies located outside Canada, as permitted under the Competition Act;
- Add administrative investigation tools to simplify the process of obtaining evidence in administrative investigations, as found in Canada’s anti-spam legislation;
- Make amendments to facilitate information-sharing with certain government agencies and partners, as well as internationally.