There are new rules out Tuesday for when Canadians will be informed of foreign interference attempts during the federal election.
A new directive issued by cabinet lays out the protocol for how a panel of non-partisan bureaucrats will decide whether to disclose threats to the election and what steps they will have to go through to do so.
According to the protocol, any decision to inform the public of foreign attempts at interference will need to be reached by consensus among the Clerk of the Privy Council, the national security adviser to the prime minister, the deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general, the deputy public safety minister and the deputy foreign affairs minister.
Neither the prime minister nor anyone else will be able to veto that decision.
WATCH BELOW: Plan to address foreign interference ‘not about refereeing’ 2019 election, says Gould
In the event the panel decides to inform Canadians of a threat to disrupt the election, the panel will inform the prime minister, the other major party leaders and Elections Canada that an announcement is going to be made, and all of those individuals will receive the same information in their briefing.
Immediately following that briefing, the Clerk of the Privy Council would then make a request on behalf of the panel for the head of whichever national security agency is most relevant to make a public alert about the incident.
That alert would include both what is known about the incident and whether there are any steps Canadians need to take to protect themselves.
However, the rules for exactly what kinds of attempts at interference will qualify are vague.
“A public announcement during the writ period would only occur if the Panel determines that an incident or an accumulation of incidents has occurred that threatens Canada’s ability to have a free and fair election,” the protocol states.
It goes on to note that determining what activities meet that threshold “will require considerable judgement” and that among the factors that could be considered are: “the degree to which the incident(s) undermine(s) Canadians’ ability to have a free and fair election;” “the potential of the incident(s) to undermine the credibility of the election;” and “the degree of confidence officials have in the intelligence or information.”
It does not lay out examples of what could warrant disclosure.
Government officials tried to address some of those uncertainties in a technical briefing with reporters on Tuesday.
They said the panel members have been receiving briefings to bring them up to speed on what kind of interference has happened in other democracies in recent years, and held a retreat to discuss what kinds of activities they could see warranting their intervention.
The focus will be on large-scale national interference by a foreign actor akin to what was seen during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and the 2017 release of hacked emails from French President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign team, both of which have been linked to Russia.
Officials said there could also be a circumstance where domestic interference could prompt them to alert Canadians.
When asked whether something akin to the “pizzagate” conspiracy theory could qualify, officials said yes.
“It’s something they might take a look at but I would hope it would be so thoroughly debunked they wouldn’t need to,” one official said.
The conspiracy theory claimed Hillary Clinton was operating a child sex trafficking ring out of a pizza shop in Washington, D.C.
It has been debunked by police in D.C. as well as repeated investigations by media.