Is Obama's support of Trudeau's re-election "foreign interference"?

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There have been concerns that the 2019 federal Canadian election might be the target of foreign interference.

Former U.S. president and current American citizen Barack Obama issued a public statement:

I was proud to work with Justin Trudeau as President. He's a hard-working, effective leader who takes on big issues like climate change. The world needs his progressive leadership now, and I hope our neighbors to the north support him for another term

Prominent figures have put forward arguments from both points of view.

Here are some individuals and bodies who have said this doesn't constitute foreign interference:

  • Elections Canada said that a foreign citizen speaking about the Canadian election doesn't "constitute an instance of undue foreign influence under the Canada Elections Act," and that factors considered before determining if "undue foreign influence" has taken place would include who incurred expenses and for what reason.

  • The "Critical Election Incident Public Protocol," the panel of senior public servants responsible for deciding when and how to inform Canadians about concerning behaviour or content that comes to their attention: as of Wednesday, 16 October 2019, the panel has not come forward with any potential meddling efforts.

On the other side, here are some individuals and bodies who have said that it does:

Does this constitute foreign interference?

Roger

Posted 2019-10-17T14:14:22.683

Reputation: 3 910

Question was closed 2019-10-17T17:31:29.457

12There is a difference between a foreign leader openly stating their opinion, and covert activities. If President Putin had limited Russian involvement in the US election to a statement saying, for example, that he wanted Trump elected because he would be easier to manipulate than Clinton I don't think there would be any problem. – Patricia Shanahan – 2019-10-17T14:21:07.633

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@PatriciaShanahan While it certainly has led to some controversy over who has given candidates their endorsement in the past, it's true that foreign leaders are largely allowed to endorse who they like - let alone former political leaders. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/12/17/what-happens-when-certain-foreign-leaders-endorse-american-presidential-candidates/

– Zibbobz – 2019-10-17T14:27:56.073

3I'm sorry, but we generally don't answer questions which ask for the personal opinions of the community. This is a Q&A site, not a debate site. But maybe this question could be made on-topic by framing it differently. How about asking how common such election endorsements by foreign (ex-) politicians are and how diplomats usually react to them? – Philipp – 2019-10-17T14:44:12.873

4I would really advise against reopening the question in its current state, because it will lead to conflicting answers which come to different conclusions just because they interpret "foreign interference" slightly differently. The votes on these answers will likely be heavily impacted by the political leanings of the voters and what narrative suits them the most. But if you really want to overrule me on that, so be it. – Philipp – 2019-10-17T14:54:42.023

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This stuff is common. Trump also said BoJo would make a good PM etc. Nobody heckled him for that. https://www.dw.com/en/us-president-trump-backs-boris-johnson-as-next-british-prime-minister/a-48998921

– Fizz – 2019-10-17T14:57:03.207

3I really want to re-open this question because I also would like to know if there is a dividing line, but I understand Philip's point. I would have no hesitation to re-open if the question was not specificly about this instance and more broadly about when the line is crossed between "free speech" (for instance) and "election interference". That though would probably invalidate the current answer. – Jeff Lambert – 2019-10-17T15:15:03.077

@JeffLambert The dividing line is money. Saying "I support X" is one thing. Many world leaders and celebrities do that and, while it's free advertising, it didn't cost the supporting person any money or work. Giving money or equivalent work to X is another matter. In my understanding, Russian interference was criticized, because it was equivalent to paid advertising and paid opposition research (ignoring the hacking of servers, which might also be considered criminal). There might also have been financial contributions to the campaign, though I've not really kept track of the whole thing. – Morfildur – 2019-10-18T07:26:38.280

@Morfildur Quite possibly that should be its own question and/or answer; in any case, it's not obviously relevant to Canadian politics. – Roger – 2019-10-18T14:01:19.580

Answers

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It depends how you define "foreign interference" (but also no)

If you are using this term to mean any non-citizen having any impact on the result of an election, then yes, this is clearly foreign interference.

If, however, you are using something more akin to Wikipedia's definition of Foreign electoral intervention as "attempts by governments, covertly or overtly, to influence elections in another country", then it seems pretty clear that this does not qualify. It's true that as a former president, Barack Obama has closer links to the US government than many others, he is speaking here as a private citizen. The term "foreign interference" usually means a state trying to influence the politics of another state, so this is not "foreign interference" as most people understand it.

The slight ambiguity of terms is what provides the opportunity for people to accuse him of this if it suits their political aims.

CoedRhyfelwr

Posted 2019-10-17T14:14:22.683

Reputation: 5 596