Federal government could take ‘lessons’ from Australia and other allies in creating Canada’s foreign agent registry, PM Justin Trudeau says.

Many experts in recent weeks have cited Australia’s overseas registry as a prime example that Canada could follow for its own program.

Australia’s public records require people advocating for a foreign state to register their activities, subject to fines or imprisonment. The US has a similar program.

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No timeline for foreign agent register as Australia warns of ‘unprecedented’ disruption

Trudeau, who was in Newfoundland on Wednesday, told reporters that parliamentarians will “study various proposals” in the coming weeks. The the government started consultations for its “Foreign Influence Transparency Register” on Friday.

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– We will continue to work as parliamentarians to study various proposals. There are lessons from what Australia and other countries have done around a foreign influence registry, says Trudeau.

“It’s an important tool. It’s not a silver bullet that’s going to save everything, but I think it’s part of the toolbox that we need to look at, and that’s why the Minister of Public Safety is moving forward as we’ve committed to deliver on a public and national register of foreign influence.”

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Mendicino announces consultation on foreign registry lists amid allegations of election meddling

Ottawa last week opened public consultation on a long-awaited foreign agent registry as the minister tasked with running it admitted that the challenge to the country of foreign interference is significant.

Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters in Ottawa that consultations will be held until May 9.

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Mendicino said he hopes the consultations will increase transparency around illegal foreign government lobbying and activities, modernize existing legislative agencies and engage Canadians in protecting democratic institutions.

“There are few greater challenges we face than foreign interference. Countering this threat, protecting the security of Canadians and upholding our national sovereignty are my primary goals as Minister of Public Safety,” he said last week.

“Foreign hostile actors have targeted Canada. While these threats are not new, they have evolved and as they have evolved, so have we increased our efforts to protect Canadians.”

Experts have urged Ottawa to create such a program, particularly in light of recent reports from Global News and the Globe and Mail highlighting the Chinese government’s alleged efforts to influence Canadian elections and society.

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Foreign interference is not just a Canadian problem. What are our allies saying?

Michael Wernick, who served as Clerk of the Privy Council for Canada from 2016 to 2019, told Global News on February 28 that a registry is something that can be addressed now amid calls for a public inquiry that could play out over a longer period of time .

David Mulroney, who was the government’s envoy to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) between 2009 and 2012, told MPs sitting on a committee studying foreign interference on February 7 that Ottawa should create a registry of foreign agents, something “that would simply require transparency of those who distribute money for, lobby for or speak for foreign states in Canada.”

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Mendicino said Friday that consultations have begun online and that he will participate in roundtable discussions in the coming weeks. That is how long it would take to establish a register of foreign agents after the consultations were concluded.

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Trudeau government to launch consultation on new foreign agent registry, appoint ‘counter-foreign interference coordinator’

The Liberal government has been under enormous pressure to explain what it knew about foreign interference in the 2021 election after the Globe and Mail reported last month that intelligence sources said China was trying to meddle in the campaign to help the Liberals win another minority government.

The report came after months of revelations by Global News about allegations of Chinese interference in the 2019 election.

Trudeau has announced a series of inquiries into the matter, but the decision on whether a public inquiry is warranted will be made by a “special rapporteur”, who is expected to be appointed in the near future.

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