The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
Voting law must be strengthened to block foreign influence in elections
June 8, 2017
Ottawa – Current law does not sufficiently protect Canadian elections from being influenced by foreign entities, whether through direct interference or by providing funding to third parties, the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs said in a report released Thursday.
The report, Controlling Foreign Influence in Canadian Elections, comes as a result of the committee’s review of the Chief Electoral Officer’s report on the October 19, 2015 federal election as well as Elections Canada’s conduct of the election.
Based on its investigation, the committee urges the government to modernize the Canada Elections Act. It should prohibit interference by foreign entities in Canada’s elections and better regulate the various ways third parties are using 21st century technology and other modern methods for election advertising. In particular, the limited definition of advertising in the act fails to address the ways in which websites, social media, polling and event organizations can be used as part of advertising campaigns.
The committee’s report makes five recommendations aimed at preventing foreign influence in Canada’s future elections and ensuring greater electoral fairness and more transparency regarding third-party election advertising expenses.
Recommendations include reviewing the Canada Elections Act to ensure foreign funding does not play a direct or indirect role in Canadian elections, prohibiting interference by foreign entities, increasing penalties for violations, and modernizing the rules governing third parties’ advertising expenses and the contributions they receive during and outside of election periods.
- Under the Canada Elections Act, only Canadian citizens and permanent residents are allowed to “induce” electors to vote a particular way or to refrain from voting for a particular candidate. However, foreign entities are able to provide unlimited contributions to third parties before the six months leading up to an election period without any reporting requirements.
- With fixed election dates in Canada, anyone can make unreported contributions to third parties six months prior to an anticipated election.
- The Canada Elections Act regulates “third-party” involvement in election campaigns but does not address costs incurred for websites, social media, polling and other activities intended to influence elections.
“Fixed election dates, along with the vagueness of the current legislation, have opened the door to foreign influence in our elections, either directly or through third parties. It’s time to modernize Canada’s election law.”
- Senator Bob Runciman, Chair of the committee
“Much of the talk about foreign influence in elections refers to what’s happening in other countries. There is, however, a growing concern that Canada’s own electoral process is vulnerable to foreign interference.”
- Senator George Baker, Deputy Chair of the committee
- Read the report, Controlling Foreign Influence in Canadian Elections.
- Follow the committee on social media using the hashtag #LCJC.
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