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The Canada flag flies atop the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 5.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A majority of Canadians would like the Liberal government to call a public inquiry into Chinese state meddling in this country’s democracy and respond more forcefully to alleged election interference by Beijing, according to a poll.

A Nanos Research survey, commissioned by The Globe and Mail and CTV News, also found 72 per cent of Canadians polled say they would support a foreign-agent registry that requires people to disclose their work on behalf of a foreign state. Another 19 per cent said they would somewhat support such a registry.

The poll found significant backing for punishing those conducting foreign interference in Canada: 86 per cent say criminal charges and jail time is the most appropriate punishment for anyone found guilty of foreign interference.

As it stands, Canada does not have specific Criminal Code offences for foreign interference, although Ottawa has promised to table legislation later this year to set up a foreign-agent registry for people who are acting on behalf of a foreign power, disbursing its payoffs or lobbying on its behalf.

Pollster Nik Nanos says his polling indicates the government has significant leeway to enact measures to combat foreign interference.

“The survey suggests there’s a lot of latitude for pretty, pretty, pretty serious measures,” he said.

A guide to foreign interference and China’s suspected influence in Canada

Asked to gauge the threat to Canadian democracy from foreign interference, nearly six in 10 polled say it is a major threat (56 per cent), while one-third view it as a minor threat (33 per cent). Only 4 per cent say it is not a threat.

Nanos conducted a telephone and online random survey of 1,096 Canadians between May 31 to June 3. The margin of error was three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The poll asked whether those surveyed believe Canada should have a formal public inquiry, headed by a judge with full subpoena powers, into foreign interference, or continue with public hearings led by former governor-general David Johnston.

Nanos found 59 per cent of respondents supported a formal public inquiry as the appropriate approach to tackling foreign interference in Canada. Another 25 per cent said they support or somewhat support public hearings planned by Mr. Johnston, which will hear from Canadians targeted by China, as well as national-security experts, this summer. In this role, Mr. Johnston does not have subpoena powers or the right to cross-examine witnesses under oath.

However, the survey found that Canadians are more likely to say Mr. Johnston is credible on foreign interference than either Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre or NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. The poll found 38 per cent of those surveyed said they felt Mr. Johnston was credible on the issue, while 30 per cent did not think he was.

Forty-six per cent said Mr. Trudeau was not credible on foreign interference in elections, while 26 per cent said he was. With Mr. Poilievre, 48 per cent of Canadians did not feel he was credible, while 26 per cent said he was. Canadians surveyed were split on Mr. Singh, with 32 per cent saying he was credible and 31 per cent saying he wasn’t.

David Johnston says China interference findings may have been based on incomplete intelligence

A slight majority of those surveyed (54 per cent) said it was not acceptable or somewhat not acceptable for Canadian civil servants to ”publicly leak or give out sensitive security information on foreign interference to news organizations,” while 40 per cent said it was acceptable or somewhat acceptable.

Mr. Trudeau has come under increasing pressure from the opposition to remove former Mr. Johnston as the government’s special rapporteur on foreign interference and set up a public inquiry instead.

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