6. Maintaining Security and Integrity – Report on the 43rd General Election of October 21, 2019
The electoral environment is changing. Experts continue to identify potential threats to Canada's democracy, ranging from attempted foreign interference and influence to cyberattacks and disinformation. These threats are complex, reaching beyond our borders and the realm of election management—and there is no simple solution that eliminates them while also allowing Canadians to maintain their freedom of expression.
Though the federal electoral process is protected by many legal, procedural, and technological safeguards, Elections Canada paid careful attention to these threats to democracy by putting in place a comprehensive security strategy and prepared to identify and address false or misleading information about where, when and ways to register and vote.
6.1. Elections Canada's Role in Electoral Security
Increasing collaboration with Canada's security agencies
In the current environment, no single entity working alone can ensure election security. Recognizing that meeting today's challenges required a coordinated effort, Elections Canada worked closely with Canada's security agencies and the Commissioner of Canada Elections before and during the election.
Elections Canada leveraged the expertise of these security agencies to reinforce its physical, personnel and cybersecurity measures. The agency also worked to put in place collaboration mechanisms to ensure coordination on detection and response to potential threats, and participated in simulation exercises involving national security agencies and other relevant government departments.
These preparations proved helpful in addressing weather incidents such as the winter storms in Manitoba, as described in Section 3.3.
Modernizing and securing the agency's information technology infrastructure
After the 2015 general election, the agency proceeded to renew key elements of its information technology infrastructure to ensure that services to Canadians and the administration of the electoral process would benefit from a reliable and secure information technology environment.
These investments allowed the agency to reinforce its security posture, in collaboration with Communications Security Establishment, which provided guidance and advice. Additional protections were added to Elections Canada's network, website and data centres. Elections Canada also considerably increased its ability to monitor its network and digital services to detect and address potential cyberthreats.
No cybersecurity incident disrupted services to Canadians or the administration of the electoral process in the 43rd general election.
Security by design
Elections Canada adopted a security by design approach leading up to the election. This meant integrating security concerns and safeguards in the day-to-day business of the agency.
All employees at Elections Canada headquarters and staff at Elections Canada offices were required to take cybersecurity training, and their resilience to phishing attempts was routinely tested. Internal coordination and information mechanisms were reinforced to ensure the rapid detection of and response to potential vulnerabilities.
Furthermore, the agency embedded stringent security requirements and reviews for all new or significantly modified digital services or information technology infrastructure deployed in the election.
Providing reliable information on the electoral process
One of the main goals of the agency's Voter Information Campaign, both in the pre-election period and during the election, was to emphasize Elections Canada's role as the official source of election information. The agency's social media posts, advertising, website, and other products reinforced the message that, if Canadians had any doubts about the veracity of information they were receiving on where, when, and ways to vote, on becoming a candidate, and on working at the election, they could turn to the agency for the right information.
Communications products repository
As part of its commitment to ensuring that electors have the right information, the agency developed an online repository containing Elections Canada's advertising and communication products, with the exception of social media posts. If an elector saw a flyer, bus ad, or any other kind of communication about the election, they could confirm its authenticity by checking the repository. Electors were also invited to report any material that claimed to be from Elections Canada that was not in the repository. The repository received nearly 163,000 visits during the election period.
Social media monitoring
Elections Canada's dedicated Social Media Monitoring Unit (SMMU) provided timely insights and actionable information to support effective election delivery and communications, and to safeguard Canadians' trust in the electoral process. The SMMU team, fluent in 21 languages, monitored keywords appearing in public posts on several social media networks, to detect:
- events that could impede electors or election delivery
- feedback on Elections Canada's services
- websites and social media accounts that falsely claimed to belong to Elections Canada
- inaccurate information about the electoral process, whether intentional or unintentional
SMMU's monitoring improved the agency's situational awareness and helped it respond to events such as weather, power outages, and road closures. SMMU also gathered real-time feedback from electors; this helped the agency more efficiently resolve issues, such as lineups at the polls and difficulties with the Elections Canada's web applications.
Many Canadians commented online about their voting experience and perceptions of the election process. The insights gained by SMMU into voter perceptions and trust will help inform Elections Canada's longer-term communication and outreach plans.
From August to October, the agency flagged to social media platforms or websites a total of 28 instances of impersonation of Elections Canada or inaccurate information that could have interfered with electors' ability to vote. Of the 28 instances reported, 13 were found to have met the platform or website's threshold for removal and were taken down. For the pages that platforms or websites did not remove, some were determined to be inactive and Elections Canada continues to work with the platforms and websites to provide the information required to seek removals on the grounds of trademark and official mark status (that is, use of the term "Elections Canada").
Communications products about electoral security
Research has shown that people over the age of 55 are less likely to be digitally literate, and are at potential risk for digital disinformation and misinformation during a federal election. Elections Canada worked with Canadian non-profit organization MediaSmarts, along with an external production company, to produce two digital literacy videos aimed at seniors, titled Check the Source.
The educational videos identified some of the ways that disinformation or misinformation can be disseminated and encouraged seniors to improve their digital literacy skills with some basic tips. The videos also reiterated that Elections Canada is the authoritative source on where, when, and ways to register and vote in a federal election.
Elections Canada also produced a video about the safeguards in place during the voting process and comprehensive web content to reassure electors of the security of their vote.
6.2. Role of the Commissioner of Canada Elections
The Commissioner of Canada Elections is responsible for enforcement of the Canada Elections Act.
Changes to the Act now enable the Commissioner of Canada Elections to compel testimony or a written return, to lay charges without prior authorization, and to impose administrative monetary penalties for many political financing and communications offences, such as failure to return an ineligible contribution, late reporting, or advertising without a tagline.
The passage of Bill C-76 brought the Commissioner of Canada Elections and his personnel back under the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer. This provision came into force on April 1, 2019. Despite the transfer, the Act requires that the Commissioner make decisions or take action on the enforcement of the Act independently of the Chief Electoral Officer. The Commissioner of Canada Elections will report separately on his activities related to the 2019 general election.