With an election approaching, the federal government is taking steps to combat possible foreign interference.
In an effort to protect the the country’s democratic process against potential threats, Ottawa is setting up a new “critical election incident public protocol” group made up of five senior bureaucrats who could alert Canadians in the event of interference. The panel includes the Clerk of the Privy Council, the federal national security and intelligence advisor, as well as three deputy ministers.
Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould said it would be naive to assume the country won’t be targeted during the campaign.
“Our democracy is rooted in trust in the electoral process and the legitimacy of the outcome,” Gould said in a statement. “Canadians have a role to play in protecting the democratic process. I am confident that the measures announced today will enhance Canadians’ confidence in the electoral process, and that our Government is prepared to address attempts by malicious actors to manipulate the system.”
Ottawa noted that foreign and malicious actors are becoming more creative at using online platforms to manipulate opinions. “Canadians can be the best line of defence in our efforts to fight foreign interference and disinformation by becoming better informed about the tactics used online to deceive,” the statement read.
In order to strengthen security practices, government systems will improve coordination to identify threats, emerging tactics and systems vulnerabilities. In addition, Canada’s security agencies will work to prevent covert, clandestine or criminal activities by foreign actors from interfering in the electoral process.
The federal government says it expects social media platforms to play a part in protecting democracy, as disinformation online can create confusion and contribute to reinforce existing social tensions. The government says it is looking for concrete actions from social media companies to increase transparency, authenticity and integrity to help safeguard the election.
Meanwhile, some media organizations are also taking steps to eliminate cyber and information threats to democracy. Nick Gamache, former Radio-Canada producer, explains: “Organizations are becoming more sophisticated in their use of social media in order to detect patterns and potential sources of disinformation.”
Nick Gamache adds: “More newsrooms are also focusing on electoral issues and putting a spotlight on the tactics being used by those who are trying to interfere with the system.”
In the current environment, delivering a secure election requires a sustained effort from many players. Along with that work, individual Canadians have a part to play, learning about cyber security risks and taking steps to protect themselves. Such actions will help create a positive and protected environment during the election campaign, allowing politicians of all stripes to freely express their opinions.