Innocent Until Labelled “Foreign”: The Unrestricted Parameters Of Foreign Influence Registries

“The evil nature of totalitarianism is not what happens outside the law. It happens when the law, or a veneer of legality, is used, often in the name of national ­security, to control what good ­people do, be it sharing ideas or speaking out against tyranny.”

by Janet Albrechtsen 

As Canadian lawmakers consider the adoption of a Foreign Influence Transparency Registry, it’s important for Canadians to critically examine the true motives underlying this law and consider what it’s been used for by our “allies.” While it is presented as a measure to enhance transparency and bolster national security, instead, it will serve as a tool to suppress dissent, curtail what’s left of our freedom of speech, and enable excessive governmental overreach.

The broad scope of this law make it so anyone in Canada could be labelled a ‘foreign influence’ and subjected to invasive investigative measures. Canadians should take into account the experiences of countries where the negative consequences of similar legislation are already being observed.

In 2018, Australia implemented the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme, ostensibly to enhance its defense against potential “threats”, with a disproportionate focus on China. However, the enforcement of this law did not target malicious foreign entities as expected, and still hasn’t. Instead, it primarily focused on Australian citizens, particularly those who expressed opposing political views.

A notable example of this is the case of former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Andrew Cooper, the director of Liberty Works, an organization focused on promoting civil liberties and free speech. Both individuals found themselves targeted by the scheme merely for their participation, which involved discussing ideas and policies within the domestic context. Their activity was framed as potential foreign influence, leading to aggressive demands for extensive documentation of their interactions and affiliations.


Despite Abbott’s long tenure in public service and Cooper’s role as a champion of freedom of speech, both individuals faced the ironic consequence of being silenced by the legislation meant to protect democracy. The expansive nature of the law granted authorities the power to scrutinize their activities, sparking significant controversy in the public and political spheres.

The implementation of this legislation in Canada raises countless concerns, particularly in terms of overstepping privacy rights and the undermining of established surveillance regulations.The proposed compliance outline, for example, is problematic due to the absence of a substantive methodology for determining various statuses.

Enhancing Foreign Influence Transparency: Exploring Measures to Strengthen Canada’s Approach

Another point to consider is the public disclosure of information about individuals and their connections to anyone labelled a “foreign entity.” This becomes particularly problematic for those who are not public figures and whose work on behalf of foreign entities does not involve public advocacy. The disclosure of such information could encroach upon their privacy rights, leaving them with limited recourse to contest investigations, as mere suspicion of foreign influence is the only criteria required.

Enhancing Foreign Influence Transparency: Exploring Measures to Strengthen Canada’s Approach

Excerpt from Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme

Beyond the realm of privacy, the implications of this legislation on academic and intellectual freedom in Canada are not ideal. Journalists, authors, academics, and publishers often engage in intellectual pursuits that delve into global matters. If they are required to register as ‘foreign influencers’ due to the international focus of their work, they can face restrictive challenges and heightened scrutiny, hindering their ability to freely conduct research and share insights. Moreover, the  ‘foreign influencer’ label could discourage collaborations and limit the reach of their work, undermining the free exchange of ideas that lies at the core of academic freedom.

We continuously hear that foreign interference is a global issue, perhaps this baseless threat response is just a tactic used globally. It’s no coincidence that the nations pushing for this law belong to the same international “security” brigade. Over recent years, the Five Eyes intelligence alliance has consistently underscored the need for safeguards against foreign intervention, particularly those emanating from China, as a rationale for implementing strategic initiatives.This narrative of foreign interference legitimizes granting governments extensive powers for monitoring and governing citizens however they want, to quite literally, whoever they want.

Honestly, these legislative tactics appear to adopt a form of experimental methodology, where the influence and ramifications of various manipulative strategies are analyzed and subsequently integrated into upcoming laws.

As a result, CSIS’ involvement in the ensuing investigations exacerbates existing concerns. Considering CSIS’ track record of mishandling such circumstances, many question the wisdom of them implementing this statute.They’ve broken the law and misused surveillance techniques in the past; why would we give them complete control now?

The Globe and Mail and Global News, advocate for this kind of legislation, frequently sidestepping considerations of potential misuse and adverse effects on personal liberties. Their influence and reach allow them to use harmful narratives and shape public perception, underscoring the need for careful scrutiny. Additionally, these outlets heavily rely on intelligence-sourced reporting. This reliance has created echo chambers that amplify, often racist viewpoints while disregarding factual information. The public discourse surrounding critical matters such as this one is skewed, leading to a distorted and imbalanced understanding of the issue.

They work with intelligence to keep us in the dark as much as possible and add more confusion to the discussion, stressing the importance of diverse and critical perspectives in a compromised media landscape.

It is somewhat ironic, and indeed cautionary, that some of those who are ardently championing this bill and disseminating anti-China rhetoric might be among the first to feel its effects. If history is any guide, such legislation has often been used to silence or control its most vocal proponents. Canadians need to recognize that support for such measures will inadvertently lead to restrictions on the very freedoms that these individuals seek to protect.

It’s difficult to imagine that this is our reality today, as it feels like something out of a movie. The reality is that Australia’s experience should act as a stern warning for Canada. Legislation claiming to safeguard national interests and deter foreign influence is being manipulated to suppress opposition, exert control and we’re going to see more of it. They will continue to drum up the “China-bad” narrative, but they will also introduce new malicious threat actors, and it’s always the same MPs raising concerns. This is why it is of utmost importance for Canadians, to remain vigilant, scrutinize these developments, and actively participate in this ongoing discourse before it’s too late.


The article was first published by Truth Bomb Media.


Voices & Bridges publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive discussion and debate on important issues. Views represented in the articles are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the V&B.