Canada at risk from Russian, Chinese interference - security committee

OTTAWA, March 12 (Reuters) - Canada’s democracy is at risk from interference by China and Russia, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government must do more to build up its defenses, a special security body said on Thursday.

The national security and intelligence committee of Canadian parliamentarians, which was granted access to classified materials, said elected and public officials at all levels were being targeted.

“The (main) perpetrators of foreign interference in Canada are the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation,” the committee said in an annual report.

“States that conduct foreign interference activities pose a threat to Canada and predominantly threaten the fundamental building blocks of Canada’s democracy.”

Canada has poor relations with both Moscow and Beijing. Ottawa imposed sanctions on many senior Russian officials after the annexation of Crimea and is entangled in a diplomatic and trade dispute with China.

The report, parts of which were redacted for security reasons, said some countries targeted ethnic communities, sought to corrupt the political process and manipulate news media.

“The threat to Canada from foreign interference is increasing. The perpetrators have become more brazen and their activities more entrenched,” it said.

The committee did not probe cyber threats or any efforts to interfere in last year’s federal election. Government officials say they detected no foreign efforts to subvert the 2019 vote.

The committee said the government had been slow to react to the threat, partly because the responsibility for tackling the problem was spread over many departments and agencies.

“The government must do better,” it said, calling for “a comprehensive strategy to counter foreign interference and build institutional and public resiliency.”

No one was immediately available for comment in the office of Public Safety Minister Bill Blair or in the Chinese and Russian embassies in Ottawa. (Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Jonathan Oatis)