Thank you very much.
Madam Chair, members of the committee, good afternoon.
As was mentioned, my name is Michelle Tessier, and I am the deputy director of operations for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Thank you for the invitation to appear before you today to talk about this important subject, foreign interference threats to our elections.
I would like to begin by defining what foreign interference is and what it is not. Foreign interference is not the normal diplomatic and public relations activity that is carried out by foreign states to influence policy outcomes. Those activities, when they take place overtly, are acceptable activities in Canada, even when conducted vigorously. They are not foreign interference.
Foreign interference activities are different. These are activities that cross a line. They attempt to undermine our democratic processes or threaten our citizens.
In the CSIS Act, Parliament defined foreign influenced activities, which is another term for foreign interference, as “activities within or relating to Canada that are detrimental to the interests of Canada and are clandestine or deceptive or involve a threat to any person”.
To be clear, foreign interference is a covert and malign activity undertaken by a foreign state to advance its national interests to the detriment of Canada's interests. It often targets Canadians, as well as our democratic institutions and processes. These activities take aim at Canada's economy, policy process, communities and media.
Today we are discussing how foreign interference impacts our democracy. It targets all levels of government, be it federal, provincial or municipal, as well as political parties, candidates, elected officials and their staff and elections themselves. States may seek to influence who becomes an official candidate and even electoral outcomes.
Indeed, individuals may be threatened or made to fear reprisals if they fail to comply with publicly supporting a particular candidate or contributing funds to a foreign state's preferred party or candidate. While state actors may use coercive techniques to achieve their objectives, they may also use flattery, promise compensation or appeal to an individual's sense of pride towards another country to elicit the desired behaviour.
We are also increasingly seeing states leverage media, including more traditional and community-based media in addition to social media, to spread disinformation or run influence campaigns designed to confuse or divide public opinion or interfere in healthy public debate and political discourse.
As a member of the security and intelligence threats to the elections task force, known as SITE, CSIS worked closely with partners in efforts to raise awareness and assess foreign interference threats against the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. This included providing classified intelligence briefings on foreign interference to cleared political party members.
In both 2019 and 2021, the panel of senior civil servants responsible for the critical election incident public protocol determined that the Government of Canada did not detect foreign interference that threatened Canada's ability to have a free and fair election and that warranted public communication.
Last year, ahead of the 2021 federal election, CSIS released a public report entitled “Foreign Interference Threats to Canada's Democratic Process” to better inform Canadians of this serious threat. As this report shows, foreign states target our democratic process to covertly influence Canadian public policy and public opinion and ultimately undermine our democracy, but there are ways to help protect against this threat. Our report communicated some strategies Canadians can take to identify and resist foreign interference.
Both the RCMP and CSIS have phone numbers and online reporting mechanisms that are monitored 24-7 for anyone who would like to report a threat to national security, including foreign interference.