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The federal government is establishing an office to counter foreign interference and giving nearly $50-million to the RCMP to combat harassment of Canadians by powers such as China and Russia.

The government said in the 2023 budget that it will spend $13.5-million to create a National Counter-Foreign Interference Office in the Department of Public Safety, citing the threat of espionage.

The Globe and Mail has reported about efforts by the Chinese government to meddle in Canadian politics, including attempts to influence elections at the federal and municipal levels.

“Authoritarian regimes, such as Russia, China and Iran, believe they can act with impunity and meddle in the affairs of democracies – and democracies must act to defend ourselves,” the Department of Finance said in the 2023 fiscal budget unveiled on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has launched three separate probes into Chinese interference in Canadian politics, with opposition parties continuing to call for a public inquiry.

Human-rights watchdog Safeguard Defenders last fall exposed a network of illegal police stations run by China in Canada and around the world. And The Globe also reported this year on how dozens of leading Canadian universities have collaborated on academic research with China’s National University of Defence Technology, a leading military institution.

The new office to counter foreign interference will have a mandate to protect companies and institutions.

“This can include foreign actors working to steal information from Canadian companies to benefit their domestic industries, hostile proxies intimidating diaspora communities in Canada because of their beliefs and values, or intelligence officers seeking to infiltrate Canada’s public research institutions,” the government said in the fiscal plan.

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The nearly $50-million for the Mounties will enable the national police force to increase its capacity to investigate harassment of Canadians by foreign powers and better “engage with communities at greater risk of being targeted,” the budget said.

Canadians from Hong Kong, Tibet and Taiwan, as well as Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities from China’s Xinjiang region now living in Canada, have all reported harassment from Beijing or proxies acting for the Chinese government. As Amnesty International and other rights watchdogs have documented, the Chinese government regularly uses relatives in mainland China to bend people in Canada to its will, including pressing them to return to face reprisals in their homeland.

The 2023 budget is also tightening anti-money laundering laws to make it harder for Beijing or Moscow to use Canada’s financial system to bankroll foreign interference in Canada. Ottawa said the budget will strengthen the investigative, enforcement and information-sharing tools of the national anti-money laundering network.

Measures include adding a new offence for structuring financial transactions to avoid reporting obligations to the anti-money laundering watchdog, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, known as FINTRAC.

“Canada must not be a financial haven for oligarchs or the kleptocratic apparatchiks of authoritarian, corrupt or theocratic regimes,” the government said.

Separately, citing China’s human-rights abuses in Xinjiang, where forced labour is used, Ottawa pledged to eradicate goods made with slavery from Canadian supply chains.

It said it would introduce legislation by 2024 to strengthen an existing ban on import of goods made with forced labour. “Canada is gravely concerned by the ongoing human-rights violations against Uyghurs and Muslim minorities in China, as well as by the use of forced labour around the world,” the government said.

In 2021, Parliament adopted a motion declaring that China’s repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang amounted to genocide.

Stephanie Carvin, an associate professor of international relations at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and a former national security analyst, questioned the decision to give the Mounties money to fight foreign harassment of diaspora groups.

“Given the RCMP’s poor track record of prosecuting national security crimes, including foreign interference, it’s not clear to me this will fix the problem,” she said.

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