As the fight over Russian meddling in the American election reaches a fever pitch, the Canadian government is refusing to say if it has information regarding possible Russian interference in the Canadian political order.
VICE News sent a request to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service for all reports, briefing notes, memos, or powerpoint presentations pertaining to Russian interference in Canadian elections from recent months.
“We neither confirm nor deny that the records you requested exist,” reads a response from the intelligence service. “We are, however, advising you … that such records, if they existed, could reasonably be expected to be exempted under or more sections of [the Access to Information Act.]”
“I think that Canadians, and indeed other western countries, should be prepared for similar efforts to be directed at us,”
CSIS pointed to two sections of the act to justify its refusal to hand over the hypothetical documents. One section allows departments to withhold records if they relate “to the efforts of Canada towards detecting, preventing, or suppressing subversive or hostile activities” while the other section pertains to ongoing investigations or national security threats.
While the spy agency won’t cop to having any documents, it seems unlikely that the issue has not come across their radar.
In March, VICE News reported that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland had been the subject of a campaign by the Russian embassy in Ottawa to paint her grandfather as a nazi collaborator, and to suggest that she had lied about the matter.
When she was presented with the claims, Freeland warned that Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election could be repeated in Canada.
“I think that Canadians, and indeed other western countries, should be prepared for similar efforts to be directed at us,” she told reporters.
The American intelligence community has been significantly more forthcoming with its information regarding alleged interference by Moscow. The FBI has released multiple technical reports that detail a coordinated hacking effort, aimed at U.S. political actors.
CSIS’ habit of classifying documents and records that should be accessible to journalists and the public through the access to information act has worsened in recent years.
VICE News has filed a complaint with the access to information commissioner, who is responsible for investigating breaches of the act and departments’ duty to disclose information, over what is known as “10(2)” exemptions — neither confirming or denying the existence of records, and refusing to disclose anything.
While campaigning to become prime minister, Justin Trudeau vowed to overhaul Canada’s access to information system, but has made little progress on that front. Every timeline set by the government for its own reforms have come and gone without significant change to the act, which hasn’t been updated in a decade.
When asked when the promised changes, which include moves to make information ‘open by default,’ expand the scope of the system to include ministers’ offices, and to empower the commissioner to do more to ensure the system works as intended.
VICE News has reached out to CSIS for comment, but has yet to receive a reply.