Recently there’s been significant attention devoted to purported foreign interference in Canadian politics. But there’s been little discussion of Ottawa’s far more significant interference abroad.
The front page of Tuesday’s National Post noted: “Alarming escalation of espionage, foreign interference.” The story reported Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) analyst Noura Hayek saying foreign interference is one of the “most serious” and “most complex” threats facing Canada. China was the main country cited.
But it’s not just China that’s allegedly interfering in Canada. Christya Freeland previously said she was “very concerned that Russia is meddling” in Canada’s election and claimed there had “already been efforts by malign actors to disrupt our democracy.”
Before the 2019 federal election the government established a special task force to monitor potential threats to Canada’s democracy that included representatives of CSIS, RCMP, Communications Security Establishment and Global Affairs’ intelligence branch.
Recently, some have claimed that Iran, with a GDP per capita barely a 15th Canada’s, is interfering in Canadian democracy. Toronto MP Kevin Vuong recently called the federal government’s response to Iranian and Chinese interference “pathetic.”
In an even more outlandish claim, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs recently suggested that a statement made by Green Party leader Elizabeth May about taking her lead from the Palestinian Authority’s representative in Canada reflected foreign interference. The apartheid lobby group noted, “Particularly at a time when Canadians are increasingly concerned about foreign interference in Canadian politics, no Canadian elected official should get their ‘marching orders’ from a foreign government & its official representatives.”
While the evidence provided for most of the claims is thin, the issue should be taken seriously. Non-interference in other countries’ affairs is an important principle of international law. Article 2 (7) of the UN Charter states that “nothing should authorize intervention in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.” Furthermore, the concept of self-determination is a core principle of the UN Charter and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
While no foreign government should meddle in another country’s political or electoral system, Ottawa has little standing to moralize on the subject. Ottawa has repeatedly intervened in other countries’ affairs, including by assisting in campaigns to oust elected governments. As Owen Schalk and I demonstrate in a forthcoming book, Canada has actively or passively backed two dozen coups.
Compared to Ottawa’s documented actions, the alleged interference in Canada is trivial. In 2019 Ottawa funded and promoted an Organization of American States electoral mission to Bolivia that sought to discredit a poll in a successful bid to subvert the country’s first ever Indigenous president. In the early 1960s Canadian soldiers worked to undermine an elected Congolese prime minister and assisted Patrice Lumumba’s enemies in assassinating him. More recently in Venezuela Canadian diplomats rallied domestic and international forces in support of a plan to declare a marginal opposition politician that country’s legitimate president.
While those screaming about foreign interference in Canada offer little more than vague claims about the impact of the claimed interventions, the consequences of Ottawa’s interference elsewhere have often been enormous. Libya remains at war 11 years after a Canadian general led the NATO bombing campaign to kill Muammar Gaddafi. A few thousand were killed in the two years after Canada aggressively subverted Haiti’s elected government in 2004, which led to a 13-year UN occupation that introduced cholera to the country. Canada’s four-year campaign to subvert an elected government in Ukraine enabled the 2014 ouster of Victor Yanukovych, sparking an eight-year civil war that contributed to Russia’s horrible invasion.
Ongoing Canadian interference in Venezuela and Haiti dwarfs the most outlandish accusations made about foreign intervention here. Ottawa continues to recognize a marginal opposition politician as president of Venezuela while the post-coup US and Canada led Core Group effectively chose Haiti’s current leader.
Canadians concerned about foreign interference should be pressing Ottawa to respect international law.