The Government of Canada’s Plan to Safeguard Canada’s 2019 Election


Speech by: 

  • The Honourable Karina Gould, Minister of Democratic Institutions
  • The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence
  • The Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

National Presse Theatre
Ottawa, Ontario
January 30th, 2019

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

The Honourable Karina Gould:

Thank you for joining us today.

Canada’s next federal election is set for this October.

In recent years, elections around the world have been targeted by both cyber- and non-cyber attacks. Perhaps the best-known incidents took place during the 2016 presidential election in the United States, but other countries have had similar experiences.

These attacks are malicious. Sometimes they can be so well-masked that they are hard to detect. These threats can weaken our confidence in our democratic system and processes

We cannot allow this trust to be broken.

I want to assure Canadians that our Government is prepared and has a plan to defend our election against threats. We have deliberated across many government departments, including with the major political parties

First off, I must say, Canada’s electoral system is already strong:

Our electoral system is highly recognized around the world for its competence and integrity.

Our federal election system uses paper ballots. As a result, it is less vulnerable to cyberattack and more resistant to results tampering.

We have robust transparency requirements and political financing and advertising rules.

Our revised election legislation has new measures against foreign funding and advertising, and new penalties for the misuse of computers to affect the results of an election.

Finally, we have three front line security agencies, world-leading institutions constantly adapting to an evolving threat environment.

As Minister of Democratic Institutions, my mandate is to lead our government’s efforts to defend the election process from cyber threats.

We have been watching and learning from the experience of others, making our own assessments and have developed a plan that protects Canada’s election.

Our plan has four areas of action;

  • Combatting foreign interference;
  • Strengthening organizational readiness;
  • Encouraging Expecting social media platforms to act;
  • Enhancing citizen preparedness.

This plan has been thoughtfully considered, it involves a whole of government approach

To discuss efforts to combat foreign interference further, I would like now to call upon my colleague, the Minister of National Defence.

The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan:

Thank you, Karina.

Our government has been working together to protect our democratic institutions and identify potential threats to our democratic process. In order to do so, we asked CSE to analyze the nature and extent of cyber threats to Canada’s own democratic process.

The first report of its kind, CSE published its findings to that request in June 2017. Our government believes that our democracy is strongest when all of our citizens can vote without the threat of interference.

By releasing this report publicly, we make all Canadians aware of the potential threats and the challenges we face as a country. 

As CSE concluded in its report on Cyber Threats, Canada’s electoral system and democratic institutions are not immune to foreign interference seen in other parts of the world.

In fact, it found that cyber threat activity against the democratic process is increasing worldwide. 

It also concluded that Canada could be targeted by any of our adversaries who use cyber capabilities to try to influence the democratic process.

These findings demonstrate the need for all Canadians and institutions, especially those involved in the democratic process, to be vigilant.

Nothing is more important to this government than protecting our democracy and ensuring that our next election is fair and free.

That is why we have a government wide plan to prepare and respond to threats. As Minister Gould has announced, our plan includes four areas of action. The first of which is combatting foreign interference.

The front line of our efforts to fight foreign interference is made up of Canada’s three security agencies including the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), for which I am responsible. 

Together with the RCMP and CSIS, these three security agencies work every day to protect Canada’s national security the safety of Canadians, and the integrity of our elections.

Our security agencies also work closely with Elections Canada to protect their systems, provide security advice and let them know about potential threats.

Our national security agencies remain vigilant in monitoring the capabilities and activities of potential adversaries who may attempt to interfere with Canada’s upcoming election.

From an international perspective, Global Affairs Canada has also been working with partners in other democracies around the world who face similar threats to their electoral processes. 

At the G7 Summit in Charlevoix last summer, partner nations agreed to a Rapid Response Mechanism.

This coordinated effort will strengthen our ability to identify and respond to diverse and evolving threats to our democracies.

Housed within Global Affairs Canada, the G7 RMM Coordination Unit will act as a focal point for Canada and all of its G7 partners.

The Coordination Unit will be tasked with sharing information and threat analysis — and, critically, identifying opportunities for coordinated responses when attacks occur.

The RRM Coordination Unit will produce analysis and reports on threat patterns and trends. The information shared across the G7 will be used to develop a better understanding of the evolving threat environment. This will help us better position ourselves to anticipate, identify, and respond to threats across the G7.

Under Minister Goodale’s mandate, the RCMP is reallocating resources to create a Foreign Actor Interference Investigative Team, which my colleague will describe in a moment.

Our government has established initiatives like the new Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) Task Force, chaired by CSE which brings together CSIS, RCMP and GAC to help prevent covert, clandestine, or criminal activities from influencing or interfering with the electoral process in Canada.

SITE, combined with the G7 Rapid Response Mechanism, and the RCMP’s Foreign Actor Interference Investigative Team, demonstrate that our Government is dedicating the resources needed to protect against cyber security threats and foreign interference to our electoral process.

We are also improving how government organizations work together to address these threats.

As many of your know as part of the 2018 National Cyber Security Strategy, CSE established the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security.

Under the leadership of Scott Jones, the Cyber Centre consolidates the cyber security operational units from three existing departments into one organization. This consolidation improves the government’s organizational readiness to respond to cyber threats.

CSE continues to protect the Government of Canada information systems and networks against cyber security threats every day.

In addition, CSE has offered to provide cyber security advice and guidance to federal political parties on ways to strengthen their networks and systems.

The Cyber Centre is also responsible for the Get Cyber Safe public awareness campaign, which educates and informs Canadians on ways to improve their online habits.

In the lead up to the 2019 Federal Election, CSE will be releasing an updated report on Cyber Threats to Canada’s Democratic Process.

I encourage all Canadians to use these resources.

Before I pass things over to Minister Goodale, I would like to take a moment to thank all of the women and men at CSE for their tireless commitment to protecting Canadians. Due to the nature of their work, they may be less well known, but their continued service helps to keep us safe.

I would now like to invite my colleague Minister Goodale to speak.

The Honourable Ralph Goodale:

What we are announcing today is a plan to protect the integrity of Canada’s 2019 federal election. As Minister Gould mentioned the plan has four parts – combating foreign interference, strengthening organizational readiness, expecting social media platforms to act responsibly and enhancing the preparedness of every citizen.

Minister Gould will deal with the latter two of those in a moment. Minister Sajjan and I are focused on the first two. From time immemorial, governments worldwide have been engaged in efforts to mould public opinion and government policies in other countries to advance their own interests.

As long as that is done in an open, peaceful, transparent manner within the law, it is fine. It is called diplomacy or treaty negotiations. Our Team Canada efforts to shape opinions and build support in the US for NAFTA are a good example – public, factual, lawful, no basis for objection. When that type of activity becomes covert or clandestine, when it consists of lies and disinformation aimed at misleading people, destabilizing the economy or society or manipulating the democratic process, a bright red line gets crossed.

It could be the old fashioned way: hostile intelligence services collecting or stealing political, economic, commercial or military information. It could be foreign agents providing illegal funds to support candidates or bribe officials. It could be cultivating personal or financial ties to coerce or manipulate diaspora. 

Increasingly the interference is higher tech – social media have been used to falsely slander elected officials. Trolls and bots are despatched to stoke anxiety, even hysteria around sensitive issues. Fake news masquerades as legitimate information. As we have seen these issues are of deep concern among G7 and Five Eyes partners.

The Americans were obviously affected in 2016. Both parties were hacked. Bot nets were rampant. One study estimates about one fifth of all Tweets posted during the final month of the 2016 US campaign were generated by bots. This was not citizens intensely engaged in the democratic process. It was contrived and electronically generated meddling intended to pervert the conversation.

In France, bot nets were used to promote false and defamatory propaganda against the leading candidate.  In Germany, in the 2017 parliamentary elections, seven of the ten most shared articles about Angela Merkel on Facebook were false. There is no doubt that covert and corrupt activities originating in foreign capitals are taking place.

They are intended to corrode systems and pervert the course of democracy. To combat foreign interference, you have to detect it. That is the work of our SITE taskforce and the agencies that are part of it, consisting of the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Department of Global Affairs, under the chairmanship of the Communications Security Establishment.

Whether it is hacking, intimidation or bribery, they have the tools and skills to identify the interference and its source. For example, the RCMP has set up a special foreign actor interference investigative team to disrupt foreign activities that constitute criminal acts. CSIS conducts ongoing threat investigations that help identify, mitigate and counter illicit foreign activities that target Canadians.

Equipped with intelligence and evidence, our police and security agencies will work with other organizations and institutions to improve their readiness and capacity to plan for, respond to and mitigate foreign threats.  Minister Sajjan has referred to the 2017 CSE report that found Canadian political parties were vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

CSIS is also aware of attempts by foreign states to interfere with our political process and manipulate public opinion. All political parties have a responsibility through best practices in their IT systems and vigilance against abuses to combat foreign interference. We all want the parties to have the latest most reliable information.

To that end, for the first time, our security agencies will provide direct security briefings to key members of national political campaigns. They will need to obtain the appropriate security clearance in advance.  These multi-partisan campaign officials will be able to receive regular briefings including classified information on the foreign interference activities both cyber and human that target Canadian democratic institutions.

The news media is also a key player. Never has journalism been under such pressure from those who would masquerade as legitimate but whose strings are pulled by foreign authorities as they use cyber space to manipulate. I will leave it up to all of you to set your own high standards of reporting and analysis by which genuine journalism can be measured and distinguished from what’s fake.

With respect to social media, those who provide the platforms have an important role to play in ensuring they are contributing to and not detracting from political discourse. Individually and through the Five Eyes and the G7, we have challenged the social media operators to help us combat terrorist propaganda, the sexual exploitation of children and human trafficking.

More and more insidious interference to subvert democracy is being added to the list of harms that these service providers need to help stop and they are uniquely positioned to do so. 

The Honourable Karina Gould:

Minister Goodale has touched on the role that Social Media plays in our democratic process.

Digital platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, have emerged as important spaces for democratic debate.  But we are concerned about the risk online manipulation poses to the integrity of our election.

I have started conversations with these companies to identify concrete actions that they can take to help protect the integrity of this fall’s election.

We expect social media platforms to take concrete actions to help safeguard this fall’s election by promoting transparency, authenticity and integrity on their platforms.

As a starting point, we are looking for a commitment from social media companies to implement changes here in Canada that they have already applied in other countries.

 I am committed to full transparency and to updating Canadians on the progress that is made.

The fourth area of action is enhancing citizen preparedness. 

The strongest defence against threats to democracy is an engaged and informed public. Citizens who recognize fraud, disinformation, and manipulation when they see it online are less likely to fall victim to it.

To help build those skills, we are dedicating $7M toward digital, news and civic literacy programming that will help Canadians:

  • Critically assess news reporting and editorials;
  • Know how and when malicious actors exploit online platforms; and,
  • Acquire skills on how to avoid being susceptible to online manipulation by malicious actors

Over the past few months, our government has deliberated how best to respond should an act of interference be grave enough to call into question the integrity of the electoral process.

Our considerations included, When and How Canadians should be informed and by whom. Our goal was to find the right way to instill confidence in both the message and the messenger.  While remaining impartial.

Today I am also announcing the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol.

The Protocol establishes a simple, clear and impartial process to inform Canadians of a threat to the integrity of the 2019 election.

It is designed to avoid the kind of gridlock that could prevent an effective response.   The core responsibility for the Protocol resides in a group of senior civil servants

This group brings together national security, foreign affairs, democratic governance and legal perspectives.

This group of public servants has the experience to critically assess the security and intelligence considerations as well as the implications of informing Canadians of a serious threat. They are the public service’s most senior officials mandated to be impartial, transparent and fair

Let me be clear: this is not about refereeing the election itself.  This is about alerting Canadians of an incident that jeopardises their rights to a free and fair election

If something happens during the campaign, they can trust that the right people have decided to make it public and the information can be trusted to be true and accurate and not a political game.

Because this issue rises beyond partisan considerations.

The Protocol has a narrow scope and a very high threshold for a public announcement. The Protocol will only apply to incidents that occur within the writ period. 

If the group determines that the threshold has been met, the Clerk of the Privy Council will direct the head of the relevant security agency to notify Canadians of the incident.

As we developed this protocol, we consulted on a number of occasions with the four major political parties in order to be fair and transparent.

It was important that political parties understood and trusted the purpose of the protocol and that decisions made by this senior group of public servants will be made in an impartial manner.

Our hope is that such a public announcement never happens, but it is essential that we inform Canadians now of a structure in place to keep them informed and engaged.

We are adapting to new realities from a position of strength, the measures announced today will bridge gaps that this evolving environment creates.

Democracy is rooted in the trust of the people in the process and in the legitimacy of the outcome.

Together, we are working hard to prepare for a free, fair and secure 2019 federal election so that we can continue to uphold the trust and confidence that Canadians have in our democracy.

My colleagues and I welcome your questions.

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