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Liberals to begin public consultations on setting up a foreign influence registry

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino announced Friday that the Liberal government wants to hear from Canadians on creating a foreign influence transparency registry to help prevent other countries from meddling in Canada’s affairs.

The Liberals have been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks over allegations, detailed in media reports citing unnamed security sources and highly classified documents, that they did not act when warned that China was trying to interfere in the last two federal elections.

“There are few greater challenges that we face than foreign interference,” Mendicino said Friday morning at a news conference on Parliament Hill.

“As a government, we must keep our eyes wide open.”

Under such a registry, people who act on behalf of a foreign state to advance its goals would have to disclose their ties to the government employing them.

The idea of such a registry, which exists in Australia and the United States, is to make those dealings more transparent, with the possibility of fines or even prison time for failing to comply.

The consultations will begin Friday and run until May 9, Mendicino said, including through a virtual portal on the Department of Public Safety’s website.

Concerns over anti-Asian racism

Mendicino signalled late last year that the Liberal government wanted to hear from experts and the broader public, including members of affected communities, on creating a registry.

But on Friday he provided no details on when a registry itself would be up and running, saying they need to take the time to get it right.

One of the goals of the consultation is “to broadly engage all Canadians in a conversation about how to protect our institutions from foreign interference in an inclusive manner that respects the diversity of our population and, of course, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” he said.

International Trade Minister Mary Ng, who is Chinese Canadian, said it is important to create the registry in such a way that does not stoke anti-Asian racism.

“We have a great responsibility to ensure that we are not unfairly or unintentionally creating a cloud that hovers over an entire community that is feeling incredibly uncertain and who have felt the discomfort of unconscious bias that became very conscious in the early days of the pandemic,” said Ng, who joined Mendicino at the announcement.

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