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Business Council Calls on Ottawa to Permit Spy Agency Sharing of Intelligence with Companies Confronting Foreign Interference

The Business Council of Canada is calling on the government to address the economic security threats posed by malign state actors, including China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. It also advised Ottawa to grant its intelligence agency the authority to share crucial information with private firms facing foreign interference.

Composed of Canada’s foremost business leaders, the council issued a stark warning through a report published on Sept. 7. The report noted that successive Canadian governments have either overlooked, underestimated, or outright neglected this principle that economic security is national security.

“The current narrative surrounding malign foreign influence is rightly focused on the integrity of democratic processes and the safety and security of targeted ethnic or cultural groups,” the report said.

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“However, strategic threat actors actively target all aspects of Canadian society to advance their strategic interests to our detriment. This includes the use of third parties wielding deceptive tactics online to damage strategically important sectors of the Canadian economy.”

Specifically, the report urged the federal government to create a legal framework to allow for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to proactively share timely and actionable threat intelligence with companies targeted by attacks. It advised that Ottawa comprehensively amend the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act to “align the agency’s legislative mandate and powers” with expanding expectations for it to identify, analyze, and disrupt threats to Canada’s economic security.

Quoting the CSIS director’s mandate letter, the report highlights Canada’s policy deficiencies, particularly the lack of information-sharing capabilities for the agency.

“The Government of Canada has been responding to our new geopolitical reality. But its actions have been slow, modest, and piecemeal,” the report said.

Additionally, the report stated that CSIS should be given the resources needed to create a new division mandated to provide training and advice to a broad range of private sector entities on how to defend themselves against economic threats. This division should look to models established in allied countries, such as MI5’s National Protective Security Authority, the report said.

‘NATO for Trade’

Among the array of recommendations aimed at revitalizing Canada’s approach to countering foreign interference, the report urges Ottawa to work with like-minded nations, including those within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), to strengthen the rules-based economic order.

This approach entails enhancing plurilateral measures to collectively counter economic coercion and unfair trade practices, in what the council describes as a “NATO for trade” alliance among allied nations. As part of this initiative, Canada can leverage its economic strengths, such as energy, food, and mineral production, to reduce trade dependencies among its allies on strategic threat actors.

In addition, the report underscores the importance of Canada enhancing its reputation as a reliable ally by reaffirming its commitment to meeting the 2 percent GDP expenditure on military defence, as outlined in NATO’s 2014 Wales Summit Defence Investment Pledge.

“There are already troubling signs that Canada’s closest allies are taking note of our reluctance to seriously confront growing security threats,” the report said. It raised concerns that Canada is increasingly marginalized in key security discussions and collaborations with allies, including the AUKUS, a trilateral security agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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