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Obama, Clinton and Sanders endorse Canadian party leaders — is it election interference?

The question has been floating around on social media, so we asked Elections Canada.
NDP Party of Canada Leader Jagmeet Singh (top left), Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (top right), former U.S. President Barack Obama (bottom left), Liberal Party of Canada Leader Justin Trudeau (bottom middle) and former U.S. Secertary of State Hillary Clinton (bottom right).

Some major endorsements from American politicians for Canadian party leaders ahead of the Sept. 20 vote have caught the eye of many  but do they violate election acts?

Liberal Party of Canada Leader Justin Trudeau received a strong endorsement from former U.S. President Barack Obama via Twitter yesterday (Sept. 16), where the 44th president said Trudeau "has been an effective leader and strong voice for democratic values." 

Less than a day later, another ringing endorsement was given to Trudeau by former U.S. Secretary of State and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, also on Twitter. 

"I have seen my friend @JustinTrudeau show leadership in the fight for accessible child care, protected reproductive rights, and ambitious climate action. I'm wishing him and our progressive Canadian neighbors the best in Monday's election," she wrote. 

This morning, Burnaby South candidate and NDP Party of Canada Leader Jagmeet Singh got a vote of confidence from American Senator Bernie Sanders, who said "there's one leader who has the courage to make the wealthy pay their fair share so everyone gets the medication they need. That's why I support the @NDP and @theJagmeetSingh." 

Obama and Clinton no longer hold positions in any government office, while Sanders is the U.S. Senator for Vermont. 

Many on social media have asked if the comments from the trio are foreign election interference or if it's appropriate for American politicians to be endorsing candidates in Canada's election. 

Elections Canada told the NOW all individuals, whether Canadian or non-Canadian, are free to express their views on any topic during an election. Comments don't necessarily mean interference, the organization said.

"A foreign citizen commenting about the election does not by itself constitute an instance of undue foreign influence under the Canada Elections Act," Elections Canada spokesperson Andrea Marantz said in an email. 

"Whether someone incurred expenses, who that person is, and for what reason that person spent the money would be among the factors that need to be considered before determining if undue foreign influence has taken place.

"Investigation and enforcement of the act are the mandate of the Commissioner of Canada Elections and are mainly based on complaints received by the commissioner."

Hamish Telford, an associate professor of political science at the University of the Fraser Valley, told the NOW  while he's not a lawyer, he believes the endorsements from Sanders, Clinton and Obama don't violate the Canada Elections Act. 

"I think these endorsements would be more problematically politically  if not legally if they came from sitting heads of state or government," he said. 

"I am sure our leaders are accepting these endorsements because they think they will be helpful, but if Canadians tell them otherwise, they may refrain from seeking and accepting these endorsements in the future." 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an early, snap election on Aug. 15, 2021.