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Foreign interference bill gets unanimous final passage in House of Commons

Click to play video: 'Foreign interference: Elizabeth May has ‘no worries’ about disloyal current MPs'
Foreign interference: Elizabeth May has ‘no worries’ about disloyal current MPs
WATCH: The federal government has faced growing calls to reveal the names of MPs who are accused in a report from Canada's intelligence watchdog of "wittingly" providing information to a foreign state. But as David Akin explains, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says the media firestorm about the allegations are overblown, after reading the uncensored version of the report for herself – Jun 11, 2024

The House of Commons voted unanimously on Thursday to give final approval to a wide-ranging bill to combat foreign interference that will create a foreign agent registry, expand powers for Canadian intelligence gathering and introduce new criminal offences.

The legislation will need to be passed by the Senate, which is currently studying the bill, before it can receive royal assent and be passed into law.

It then gives a one-year timetable for the new measures, including an independent commissioner who will oversee the influence registry, to be put in place.

Bill C-70, the Countering Foreign Interference Act, comes as the Liberal government faces mounting pressure to tackle threats to diaspora communities and Canada’s electoral process.

Last week, a startling report from the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) alleged parliamentarians are “wittingly” or “semi-wittingly” collaborating with foreign governments.

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Click to play video: '‘Must take foreign interference with all the seriousness it requires,’ says Trudeau of NSICOP report'
‘Must take foreign interference with all the seriousness it requires,’ says Trudeau of NSICOP report

On Tuesday, MPs passed a Bloc Québécois motion for the public inquiry into foreign interference to investigate these bombshell allegations.

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The commission of inquiry, led by Quebec Justice Marie-Josée Hogue, released an interim report last month that determined China meddled in the last two elections. The efforts did not change the outcome of the 2019 and 2021 votes but did “taint the process” by undermining the rights of Canadians, Hogue found.

The Conservatives, who support Bill C-70, have accused the Liberals of dragging their feet on foreign interference, and introduced a motion to fast-track the bill so it’s in place before the next election, slated for October 2025.

The NDP initially tried to block the move but now supports C-70.

However, 14 civil liberty groups recently wrote a letter to MPs, criticizing the bill as being overly broad and saying it has not received enough study.

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The West Block: ‘Deflection,’ no answers on politician collusion allegations

MPs wrapped up hearings on the bill after roughly a week, which those organizations called too swift.

“Unfortunately, the legislative study of this important bill is currently taking place in an extremely rushed fashion,” the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said in a statement Monday.

“(The CCLA) identifies several Charter issues that must be addressed before the bill passes into law.”

Bill C-70 would expand warrant powers for CSIS, broaden the existing law against sabotage and create targeted foreign interference offences.

The RCMP and Canada’s spy agency say the laws are not currently on the books to prosecute those who collaborate with foreign states like China and India. The NSICOP report drew a similar conclusion.

“Some (of the activities) may be illegal, but are unlikely to lead to criminal charges, owing to Canada’s failure to address the long-standing issue of protecting classified information and methods in judicial processes.”

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A chief provision of Bill C-70 is the creation of the foreign influence registry, which has been long promised but delayed for more than a year.

Under the legislation, anyone working with a foreign power, entity or state who is in communication with a public office holder, communicating political or government information to the public, or distributing money or items of value must register their activities with a commissioner.

Foreign agent registries already exist in the U.S. and Australia.

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