OTTAWA — A newly released independent report on the protocol designed to inform Canadians in the event of threats to the 2021 federal election concludes it worked well overall, but the public should be told more about what it would consider cause for concern.
Former civil servant Morris Rosenberg, who was tasked with writing the report assessing the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol, also made several recommendations for its future in a report released Tuesday.
The protocol was created in 2019 to monitor threats to federal elections. If a threat meets its threshold, the panel created by the protocol can make an announcement to Canadians.
Rosenberg says the panel of five senior public servants did not find there was foreign interference in either the 2019 or 2021 elections that compared to the scale of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
But the panel did find there were attempts at foreign interference that did not meet the threshold for making an announcement, which would happen only if members found there was a threat to Canada’s ability to have a free and fair election.
Rosenberg says an announcement of that kind was seen as a measure of last resort. He recommends clearer communication with Canadians about what the panel does. He also recommends further study about what is considered before that threshold is met.
The panel also found there were domestic threats in the 2021 campaign that included threats of violence and disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rosenberg says there should be an assessment of whether security details for party leaders and other levels of policing are able to handle “the level and persistence of the threats” politicians face before the next election takes place.
The report also calls for national security agencies to develop a program of unclassified briefings to boost the awareness that members of Parliament and senators have about foreign interference. Some of them have called for this in recent months.
Security agencies should brief lawmakers on election interference and measures they can take to safeguard themselves and their online information, Rosenberg says.
The report comes more than 17 months after the September 2021 election.
Media reports in recent weeks have alleged foreign interference by China in both the 2019 and 2021 elections, leading to increased scrutiny of the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol and calls for greater transparency over such threats.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2023.
The Canadian Press