Alberta is the prime target in Canada for foreign interference, warns CSIS
Alberta is the prime target in Canada for foreign interference, warns CSIS

Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) officials warned Alberta that it has become a “very attractive” target for foreign entities wishing to exert their influence due to the province’s economy, resources and large number of ethnic communities. 

CSIS shared its findings at a presentation in Edmonton to several provincial political parties and representatives from Elections Alberta on December 9, 2022, according to documents obtained through an access to information request by Postmedia. 

Foreign governments use “clandestine or coercive” activities to influence Canadian society to their benefit, warned the presentation. 

CSIS found that Alberta is the most sought-after place to enact these activities because of its “resource rich and high-tech economy.”

 “Canada and specifically Alberta are very attractive to many hostile foreign states due to our resource rich and developed high-tech economy; geostrategic interest, particularly with respect to energy production and the Arctic; and presence of large diaspora communities,” read the documents.

Foreign interference is often associated with being a problem only at the federal level, however, CSIS warned that it’s become an issue at every level of government. 

“There is a perception that the provincial and municipal level presents an easier target due to less scrutiny and attention,” reads the documents.

CSIS alleges that provincial and municipal officials are less likely to pay attention to national security issues because of a “disbelief that they would be of interest to a foreign state as they don’t deal with classified information.”

“Foreign states hold knowledge that municipalities, provinces and Indigenous communities have certain powers/capabilities for economic development/investment, that the federal government does not.”

Press secretary for Premier Danielle Smith’s office, Sam Blackett, confirmed that the Alberta government is aware of foreign influence and particularly concerned about officials travelling abroad.

“We take regular steps to interact with the appropriate agencies to ensure our staff are educated on the tactics and methods used by foreign influencers,” said Blackett. 

The most accessible window foreign entities have for interference is in the lead-up to elections. and for some time shortly after. 

However, CSIS warned that “some states play the ‘long game,’” even outside of election cycles. 

China, India and Russia are all countries already known to have conducted foreign-influenced activities, targeting Canadian politicians, staffers, and diaspora communities. 

The documents listed one other foreign government but the name was redacted, according to the Edmonton Journal

“Russia often interferes in a way designed to undermine Canadians confidence in their democratic institutions and generally sow chaos and confusion,” reads the documents. 

“China, conversely, seeks to influence in a way that gives the impression that everything is functioning as it should, but in a way that is amenable to China’s objectives.”

International post-secondary students can also be a target for foreign states as a means to access intellectual property and influence discourse on campuses. 

“States are interested in more than just classified information and state secrets as they are now looking toward talent spotting and recruiting.”

CSIS also claimed that Indigenous communities and governments may also be a target.

“They may attempt to exploit existing tensions (eg: historical treatment by the Government of Canada) to create new influence channels and leverage points to be used against other levels of Canadian government.”

CSIS spokesperson Eric Balsam said that the spy agency continues to observe foreign interference at all levels of government and across party lines.

“CSIS continues to observe pervasive, persistent, and sophisticated state-sponsored threat activity targeting Canadian democratic institutions and continues to see a rise in its frequency and sophistication,” wrote Balsam in a recent statement.

“CSIS is committed to equipping elected officials to identify foreign interference threats and take measures to ensure their personal safety.”

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