The black bag: foreign interference in Canada’s institutions and beyond
Foreign interference isn’t anything new – the term conjures up notions of cold war espionage, spies on benches passing unmarked envelopes beneath folded newspapers – but as the world becomes increasingly globalized and digitally linked, so too have new and increasingly sophisticated opportunities for foreign powers to interfere in Canada’s domestic affairs.

Recent revelations about foreign state actors’ roles in federal elections have brought this issue to the fore of Canadian debate, with CSIS confirming that “pervasive and persistent” attempts at meddling took place during the 2019 and 2021 elections; however, attempts at foreign interference have gone beyond the ballot box, with state and non-state actors striving to undermine Canada’s sovereignty and prosperity by influencing its financial institutions, universities, businesses and individuals.

In espionage terms, the phrase “black bag operation” refers to the practice whereby spies enter secure structures for the purposes of obtaining intelligence, often through electronic surveillance. In this series, we will be opening the black bag to uncover what foreign interference and espionage look like in 2024: how foreign interference risks impacting Canada’s investment activities, financial and academic institutions, and lobbying practices, and what Canada is doing to combat it.

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