Canada expects foreign meddling in October election, Chrystia Freeland says
'Our judgment is that interference is very likely,' Canada's foreign affairs minister says
Canadian Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Friday it was likely that foreign actors would meddle in the country's October elections, and her British counterpart said a deterrent to stop countries like Russia from interfering was critical.
U.S. intelligence officials and the governments of some European Union countries have accused Russia of interfering in their elections in recent years, allegations strongly denied by Moscow.
When asked whether she was worried Russia would interfere in the election, Freeland said she was "very concerned."
"Our judgment is that interference is very likely and we think there have probably already been efforts by malign foreign actors to disrupt our democracy," she said, speaking at a media freedom event on the sidelines of a G7 foreign ministers meeting in France.
Freeland said such attempts were not aimed at securing a particular outcome in a national elections but to polarize Western societies.
Her comments echoed those of her cabinet colleague, Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, who earlier this year said it would be be "naive" to assume Canada won't be targeted in the lead-up to the election given its membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and participation in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
The foreign ministers of the G7 nations — the U.S., France, Japan, Germany, Britain, Italy and Canada — as well as the European Union are meeting in Dinard, Brittany, where they are expected later to agree on common norms that would seek to prevent foreign powers from destabilizing democratic nations.
Looking for deterrence strategies
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was imperative for liberal democracies to tackle interference by Russia and others.
"We know that states like Russia have got a very active, planned, thought-through strategy to interfere in democratic processes in Western countries and [to sow] dissension and chaos wherever they can," Hunt said.
"We are getting much better at fending off these attacks when they happen. What we don't do at the moment is deter them from happening in the first place."
He said the discussions at the G7 on Friday would be aimed at finding a deterrence strategy that imposed a high price for meddling with democratic processes.
To ward off the type of threats that tainted the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the Brexit vote, the Canadian government is setting up an internal team to sound the alarm if it sees evidence of meddling.
The new "critical election incident public protocol" group is made up of five bureaucrats who will alert the public if they become aware of interference during the campaign period, also known as the writ period.
If the team determines there's a substantial threat — either foreign or domestic — it would alert the prime minister, political party officials and Elections Canada of its intent to hold a news conference to warn the public and advise people on what they should do to protect themselves.
With files from CBC News