US shares ‘best practices’ with Canada on establishing foreign agent registry

US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said US officials discussed the possibility of Canada establishing a registry of foreign agents during his official visit to Ottawa on Friday.

Mayorkas told CBC News chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton that the United States shared some of its expertise in creating such a registry.

“We shared some of the practices and laws we have in place to see if they would be helpful to our partners in Canada,” he said in an interview broadcast on Sunday on Rosemary Barton live.

Mayorkas did not go into detail about what was shared with Canadian officials, but acknowledged that US Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke at length about a registry of foreign agents in Ottawa. Both Mayorkas and Garland were in the nation’s capital on Friday to participate in the 2023 Canada-U.S. Cross-Border Crime Forum.

In March, the Canadian government launched public consultations on creating a Foreign Influence Transparency Registry to prevent other countries from interfering in Canada’s affairs.

As part of such a registry, individuals who act on behalf of a foreign state to advance its objectives would have to disclose their ties to the government that employs them.

The consultations, which include a virtual portal on the Ministry of Public Safety website, run until May 9.

The US Foreign Agents Registry Act has been in place since 1938 and was used more recently to shut down what authorities called a Chinese police station in lower Manhattan.

Safeguard Defenders has listed this one-story commercial building in Markham, Ontario, as one of three so-called Chinese “police” stations in Canada. The RCMP says it has closed four of these stations. (Idil Moussa/CBC News)

Two US citizens have been charged with failing to register their work in the name of the People’s Republic of China.

The RCMP says it has investigated similar police stations in Canada – facilities that human rights groups say are used to intimidate diaspora communities – but had to. do so without resorting to a foreign registry.

RCMP Commissioner Michael Duheme told a parliamentary committee in March – when he was still deputy commissioner responsible for federal policing – that the RCMP had “taken overt steps” that shut down operations in four alleged Chinese police stations.

US aims to quickly assess threats posed by Beijing

Mayorkas recently launched a “90-day sprint” in his department to assess the potential threats the People’s Republic of China (PRC) poses to the United States.

Mayorkas told Barton the review will focus on cybersecurity threats, intellectual property theft and the spread of misinformation.

“What we want to do is identify all the means and instruments that they employ in each area and really make sure that we take collective action to address them,” he said.

A recent federal report on election interference cited the Chinese government as a particular source of concern. This report refers to an article that circulated on WeChat – a Chinese-owned messaging app – during the 2021 election campaign that falsely claimed that a bill introduced by former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu would unfairly target the Chinese community.

The bill in question would have established a register of foreign agents, similar to the one the government is currently considering.

Mayorkas warned that Canada and the United States should not focus solely on Beijing as a source of foreign interference.

“It’s by no means exclusive to the PRC,” he said.

“That’s something we have to be very careful of from other nation states, like Russia, Iran, North Korea, for example.”

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