The timeline for when Canada might have a long-awaited foreign agent registry up and running remains unclear as a top ally MP warns his country is seeing “unprecedented levels” of foreign interference by hostile actors, including China and Russia.

After announcing the launch of public consultations for the registry on Friday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino did not say whether he will face calls from security experts who say Canada could have the measure in place as soon as this summer when pressed by Eric Sorensen on Western quarter Sunday.

“We are committed to having a very focused conversation around how we want to inform the creation of this foreign registry,” the minister said. “I also want to be sure that we get the right threshold.

“We want to promote transparency around the legitimate activities of foreign actors. We also want to deter and counter activities that go beyond legitimate diplomacy. … And most importantly, we want to engage Canadians.”

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The House of Commons is scheduled to be erected in the summer on June 23.

The consultation, which will be held until May 9, is one of several new measures announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week as his government faces increased pressure to explain to Canadians how foreign interference – particularly in elections – is being fought, as well as how much he and other top ministers have known about such efforts.

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) and the independent National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) have each been ordered to conduct studies of foreign interference.

A “special rapporteur” will also be appointed with a “broad mandate” to oversee the probes and make recommendations to the government – including whether to call for a public inquiry amid growing calls for an open inquiry.

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Both NSICOP, which includes cross-party MPs and a senator, and NSIRA, which is made up of independent experts tasked with reviewing the actions of Canada’s intelligence agencies, conduct their activities behind closed doors to review classified material.

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Mendicino was also tasked Monday with establishing “a Counter-Foreign Interference Coordinator” to oversee the work and recommendations of various agencies and committees.

Consultation for the foreign agent register has started onlineand Mendicino said Friday that he will participate in roundtable discussions in the coming weeks.

The minister said Sunday that the consultations are intended to ensure not only transparency for Canadians, but also that Chinese Canadians do not feel stigmatized.

“Members of the Chinese Canadian community are really very concerned about being painted with the same brush when it comes to these allegations. It’s unfair,” he said.

“They have every right to participate fully in society, including in our politics.”

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Trudeau declines to give a possible date for the launch of a new foreign agent registry

What can Canada learn from Australia?

The public register would be similar to that in other members of the Five Eyes alliance, including Australia, where it is part of the government’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme.

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That law, passed in 2018, requires people advocating for a foreign state to register their activities, subject to fines or jail time.

“As a liberal democracy, we don’t mind other governments or companies or individuals trying to at least have an influence on our politics and how we govern in Australia,” Andrew Wallace, Australia’s Liberal Opposition MP who serves as deputy chairman. of the government’s intelligence and security committee, told Sorenson in an interview on Sunday.

“But what’s really important is that it’s a transparent process, and that’s the key.”

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That transparency extends to how Australia’s intelligence service, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), communicates the threats the country faces from foreign interference with the public.

Last month, ASIO Director General Mike Burgess used his annual review speech to warn that several nations were using espionage and foreign interference to advance their interests and undermine Australia’s at a higher rate than ever before – an assessment Wallace not only agreed with but also says that is important to say publicly.

“We are seeing a huge increase in foreign influence, and foreign interference in particular, in Australian politics today at unprecedented levels,” he said.

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“It also has to be said that … thanks to that kind of openness from ASIO and our security agencies and our politicians, that Australians are gripped by this issue and are very aware that there are many – let’s be honest – attacks on our democracy, on our companies, on government platforms.

“This is happening all day, every day by foreign state actors, especially China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.”

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Wallace said his committee is currently conducting a statutory review of the legislation “where we identify cases where the laws catch people it probably shouldn’t catch and don’t catch people it should catch.”

While he declined to say whether he believed Canada was doing enough to combat foreign interference, he underscored the necessity of the Five Eyes to work together to address these threats.

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“(The alliance) really depends on us trusting each other, so it’s important that we show each other that we have the necessary safeguards in place,” he said.

“We have to stand together and we have to push back against these authoritarian threats and pressures and economic coercion that we in Australia, I think, are the first to face.”

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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.

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

Just last week, Global News revealed that two high-level national security reports before and after the 2019 election indicate that Trudeau and his office were warned that Chinese government officials were sending money to Canadian political candidates.

One is a “special report” prepared by the Privy Council Office for the Trudeau government and was date-stamped January 2022. The memo was also finalized, suggesting it was intended to be read by Trudeau and his senior aides.

Reviewed by Global News, it alleged that Chinese officials in Toronto had paid money to a secret network tasked with meddling in Canada’s 2019 election.

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Asked by Sorensen if he had been briefed on that memo, Mendicino would not say if he had seen it specifically.

“This is not a new issue,” he said. “The Prime Minister has received briefings, I have received briefings, other colleagues have received briefings regarding matters relating to national security.

“For obvious reasons, we can’t just reveal every detail of (them),” he added, citing the need to protect intelligence officials and their sources.

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He said any transparency on the issue of foreign interference must be balanced with such concerns – including in the creation of a register of foreign agents and the consultations that inform it.

“You’ve said throughout our conversation that Canadians are worried,” he told Sorensen. “Well, one of the ways we can allay their concerns is to be open about how we create the tools, how we create the authorities for our national security agencies. This is one way we can do that.

“It is not a panacea for the fight against foreign interference, but it will be stacked on top of all the other measures that this government has taken so that we can be sure that we are protecting our institutions.”