Critical Election Incident Public Protocol

The Critical Election Incident Public Protocol (the Protocol) lays out a simple, clear and impartial process by which Canadians should be notified of a threat to the integrity of the 2019 General Election.

The Protocol includes provisions for: informing candidates, organizations or election officials if they have been the known target of an attack; briefing the group of senior public servants at the heart of the Protocol; informing the Prime Minister and other party leaders (or their designates) that a public announcement is planned; and notifying the public.   

The Prime Minister cannot veto the decision to notify Canadians of a critical incident

Panel

At the heart of the Protocol is a group of experienced senior Canadian public servants who will be responsible for jointly determining whether the threshold for informing Canadians has been met, whether through a single incident or an accumulation of incidents.

The protocol will be implemented by a five-member panel of Canada’s senior public servants.

It will be comprised of the following members:

  • the Clerk of the Privy Council;
  • the National Security and Intelligence Advisor;
  • the Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney General;
  • the Deputy Minister of Public Safety; and
  • the Deputy Minister of Global Affairs Canada.

These individuals bring together unique national security, foreign affairs, democratic governance, and legal perspectives.

Mandate

The Protocol will have a limited scope.

It will be activated for incidents that may occur within the writ period and that do not fall within Elections Canada’s areas of responsibility (i.e., the administration of the election). Incidents that occur prior to the writ period will be addressed through regular Government of Canada operations.

Having these five individuals fulfill this role is consistent with the Caretaker Convention. The Caretaker Convention puts into practice the principle that the government is expected to exercise restraint and “restrict itself” in matters of policy, spending and appointments during the election period, except where absolutely in the national interest.

During the caretaker period, necessary announcements are made in the name of the department to ensure a distinction between official government business and partisan activity.

The Protocol Panel will not serve as a mechanism to referee of the election.

Threshold

The threshold for the Panel’s intervention during the election will be very high. It will be limited to addressing exceptional circumstances that could impair Canada’s ability to have a free and fair election.

As such, potential considerations could include:

  • the potential impact of the incident on the national interest;
  • the degree to which the incident undermines Canadians’ democratic rights;
  • the potential of the incident to undermine the credibility of the election; and
  • the degree of confidence officials have in the intelligence.

The Prime Minister cannot veto the decision by the Panel to notify Canadians.

Announcement

If the Panel determines that the threshold has been met, the Clerk would direct the relevant national security agency head(s) to hold a press conference to notify Canadians of the incident(s).

The announcement would focus solely on:

  • notification of the attack;
  • what is known about the attack (as deemed appropriate); and/or
  • steps Canadians should take to protect themselves (e.g., ensure that they are well informed; cyber hygiene), if required.

The announcement will not address attribution (i.e. the source of the attack) and will not include classified information.

Further, while the announcement might affirm that steps are being taken to address the situation, it would not necessarily provide details of those actions.

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