DINARD, France (Reuters) - Canada’s foreign minister said on Friday it was likely that foreign actors would meddle in her country’s October elections and her British counterpart said a deterrent to stop countries like Russia from interfering was critical.
U.S. intelligence officials and the governments of some European Union countries have accused Russia of interfering in their elections in recent years, allegations strongly denied by Moscow.
When asked whether she was worried Russia would interfere in the election, Chrystia Freeland said she was “very concerned”.
“Our judgment is that interference is very likely and we think there have probably already been efforts by malign foreign actors to disrupt our democracy,” she said, speaking at a media freedom event on the sidelines of a G7 foreign ministers meeting in France.
Freeland said such attempts were not aimed at securing a particular outcome in a national elections, but to polarize Western societies.
The foreign ministers of the G7 nations - the United States, France, Japan, Germany, Britain, Italy and Canada — as well as the European Union are meeting in Dinard, Brittany, where they are expected later to agree on common norms that would seek to prevent foreign powers from destabilizing democratic nations.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later said “very clearly that countries like Russia are behind a lot of the divisive campaigns ... that have turned our politics even more divisive and more anger-filled than they have been in the past”.
Speaking to reporters in Toronto he said the government was being “incredibly vigilant” about the potential threat.
In April of last year, Ottawa unveiled measures to prevent foreign meddling in elections, including a clamp down on advertisements and funding.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, speaking in Dinard, said it was imperative for liberal democracies to tackle interference by Russia and others.
“We know that states like Russia have got a very active, planned, thought-through strategy to interfere in democratic processes in Western countries and (to sow) dissension and chaos wherever they can,” Hunt said.
“We are getting much better at fending off these attacks when they happen. What we don’t do at the moment is deter them from happening in the first place.”
He said the discussions at the G7 on Friday would be aimed at finding a deterrence strategy that imposed a high price for meddling with democratic processes.
Additional reporting by Julie Carriat in Dinard and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Sandra Maler