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Opinion Preventing election meddling requires a collective international effort. Canada should take the lead

Harry Nedelcu is a policy adviser to the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, a bipartisan group of political, technology, business and media leaders that seeks to foster a more transatlantic and collective approach to preventing the next wave of election interference.

More than 20 major elections will take place in the next two years in North America and Europe. In an era of election meddling, Russia has a stake in all of them and Canada is no exception. Quebeckers go to the polls today and federal elections are scheduled next year.

After reports of election meddling in the United States, Brexit and the Catalonian referendum in Spain, as well as elections throughout Europe, Yves Côté, the Commissioner of Elections here at home, has raised the alarm about the possible interference of foreign actors.

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Some encouraging steps are already being taken. Discussions have begun with Facebook and Twitter and Parliament is weighing Bill C-76, which seeks to add more transparency on political messaging on social media and stop foreign money from influencing our elections.

This is a positive start, but it is only a start. We have an opportunity to do more. Canada is placed in a unique position to take on a leadership role in a worldwide effort by bringing everyone together to work on the issue.

At a time when the international postwar world order is increasingly being challenged, when Western democratic norms and values are being questioned – sometimes from within – Canada finds itself one of the few remaining pillars of a liberal world where Western values are still intact. We continue to define ourselves by multiculturalism, diversity, freedom, individual rights, trade and a rules-based order. This is the image we convey to the world.

We currently hold the presidency of the G7 and we can utilize our reputation to work on an issue of concern not just to us, but to democracies everywhere.

This is especially important when we face inertia and disarray among some of our closest partners. To our south, the Americans are tangled in toxic partisan politics. Across the Atlantic, the situation in Europe is even more difficult. The U.K. is distracted by Brexit. Italy has been hijacked by populists and the far-right. Germany and France have made strides, but some have criticized both Paris and Berlin for going too far with legislation that trumps free speech.

In short, not everyone thinks there is a problem. And among those that do, there is no common understanding about what the solution is.

Canada should take the lead, not by telling others what to do but by bringing our global partners together to discuss the issue and explore ways of addressing it. Preventing election meddling requires a whole-of-government approach as well as a collective international effort.

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With our fellow G7 members, we are already planning to tackle a number of these very issues. Some of this work will take place with the establishment of the rapid response mechanisms inside the G7.

Yet, one of the problems with election interference is that it is difficult to detect in real time and to identify the culprits. Our effort should also be geared toward real-time monitoring and prevention in addition to naming and shaming perpetrators after the fact. Therefore, our rapid response should also be matched by an evidence-driven prevention mechanism. This could involve a world-election-interference screening system that would monitor potential issues ahead of an election that any participating country could have access to.

Second, we should broaden our G7 initiative and establish an international institutionalized channel where democratic states can learn from one another, freely exchange information and establish best practices. An organization of global democracies could uphold our political systems by starting to address the integrity of our elections. In particular, we could begin by bringing in those countries that have already developed robust interference prevention mechanisms such as Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Latvia.

Through the efforts of Lester B. Pearson, Canada rose to the occasion during the 1956 Suez Crisis and out of that effort came the idea of multinational U.N. peacekeeping forces. More than 60 years later we have the chance to spearhead an international effort to safeguard democracy. This is a historical chance that we should not miss.

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