Conservative leader Erin O’Toole does not believe Justin Trudeau’s government has done enough to safeguard the Sept. 20 election against foreign interference.

At a press conference Thursday, O’Toole did not specify where he thinks Canadian democracy is vulnerable, but said Canada is not equipped to deal with “bad actors.”

“I do think there’s risks of foreign interference, particularly with what we’ve seen happen in other democracies – allies of Canada,” he said. “We’ve seen interference from bad actors and I feel that Mr. Trudeau hasn’t been doing enough in this situation.”

The Conservative platform proposes the creation of a “permanent task force to address foreign interference,” with a mandate to address disinformation and influence operations online and offline, as well as to address “threats from foreign actors against Canadian residents, including recently reported operations against diaspora communities in Canada.”

O’Toole addressed this in his response Thursday, singling out Chinese-Canadians he says are being “observed and tracked by agents of the Communist Party of China.”

“We need to be serious and protect our institutions, protect our democracy,” O’Toole said.

Ahead of the 2019 election, the Canadian government took an aggressive approach to combat disinformation, though these efforts were largely disbanded after the election.

The Canadian Security Establishment, Canada’s top cybersecurity agency, said in a July report that influence campaigns against voters posed a significant threat to the integrity of Canadian elections.

“State actors may use threats, bribery or blackmail to affect the voting behaviour of individuals inside or outside of communities,” the report said. “Individuals may be threatened or fear reprisal for themselves or their loved ones in Canada or abroad if they fail to comply with publicly supporting a particular candidate or contributing funds to the foreign state’s preferred party.”

Reports have found that foreign actors did inject themselves into political discourse during the 2019 Canadian election, though it’s not clear if a particular party or politician benefitted from this interference.

With the 2021 election called in the midst of a pandemic, questions have been raised about what safeguards are in place to protect against fraud in mail-in ballots, which are expected to be used more heavily than in typical elections this year.

The July CSE report actually warned against the possibility of unsubstantiated fraud allegations sowing discord in the election results. 

Elections Canada insists mail-in voting is safe, with “several integrity features,” including identification and address verification before a ballot is issued, and the allowance of scrutineers at the facility where ballots are received and counted.

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