Russians Sabotaging Canada

by Diane Francis

An employee stands by TV sets in a shop in Moscow on April 16, 2015 during the broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual televised phone-in with the nation. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER UTKINALEXANDER UTKIN/AFP/Getty Images   0417 fo putin

The weaponizing of social media by Russians and others has afflicted the U.S., France, Germany, Britain and others.

But there is no controversy about this concerning Canada — and it should be.

Consider the fact that the anti-development forces in B.C. won its election by a hair, and have disrupted the oil and liquefied natural gas industry in Canada, the country’s only engine of economic growth.

The Russians and others who have meddled to prevent resource development here for years should be drinking champagne and eating caviar as casualties pile up. Stoppage of Malaysia’s LNG project in B.C.; the Alberta-B.C. trade fight; blockage of Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Trans Mountain pipeline, a legally permitted pipeline; and cancellation of TransCanada Corp.’s Energy East east-west pipeline.

It is naïve to believe that Canada is not a battleground for malevolent outsiders and insiders, and there’s evidence that this has already happened in the past. And yet, Ottawa, other levels of governments, corporations, and electoral commissions remain oblivious to this.

This is why Canada’s parliament must subpoena Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc., Twitter Inc. and other online “transmitters” to testify as to whom they have allowed to advertise or post to Canadians. These companies do not curate or fact-check information anywhere and, as such, have published or transmitted fake ads, fake news, hoaxes, conspiracy nonsense, hate, lies, and questionable information to millions.

In the U.S., these companies appeared before Congress and admitted to, and claimed to not have known, that there were thousands of advertisers and users from Russia and elsewhere whose identities were masked and ads illegal. An estimated 10 million Americans were bombarded with propaganda during the 2016 campaign, in strategic ridings, and led to the election of a thoroughly unqualified president.

Canada’s rival nations hope to strand our oilsands, stop pipelines, stir up anti-Americanism, anti-NAFTA sentiment and anti-capitalist sentiment as well as to foment disagreement over the environment, First Nations issues, Quebec separatism, and immigrants.

A few years ago, I exposed a scheme involving the attempted blockage of deliveries by trucks of gigantic oilsands equipment on its way through Montana to Alberta. A U.S. official revealed that letters and lobbying in Montana were waged out of Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing jurisdictions.

This, and other revelations led Prime Minister Stephen Harper to ban foreign-financed special interest groups from participating in regulatory or environmental hearings resource development.

Of course, this was billed as a ban against dissent, but hidden parties with destructive agendas from abroad should not be allowed into any public conversation or voting booth in Canada.

A U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology report noted that Russians attempted to influence North American energy markets by exploiting social media with ads like these.

Damage to our resource sector is likely not the only mischief that’s been perpetrated. Russians have been meddling in Mexico’s election to break up NAFTA, so why not here? The Russians have backed California’s secessionist movements for years, so why not here in Quebec?

It’s now apparent that small, strategic attacks work for very little outlay due to connectivity and a social media sector that does not accept any legal responsibility for accuracy or lobbying rules.

In the case of Brexit or the U.S. Presidential election, the Russians and others delivered razor-thin victories by using tools in key ridings that Facebook and the others provide for minimal cost.

So why not here, notably the B.C. outcome that’s disrupted the Canadian economy as a whole.

What’s known is that there are thousands of cyber attacks a year against government agencies, notably involving resources or science, and thousands more against private enterprises.

It’s also known that there are millions of politically-motivated cyber attacks through social media against the world’s democracies.

Clearly, Ottawa must demand answers from social media companies immediately as to who and what advertisers and users that are and have been, allowed to reach Canadians.

Then impose tough new laws.