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Public servants in the spotlight

In our cover story this month we profile some very interesting civil servants whose work is high profile, fast paced and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

When people ask me who my typical reader at Canadian Lawyer is, my response is that the name says it all. We write about and for all kinds of lawyers in Canada, in all parts of the country.

This does not mean that certain kinds of lawyers don’t deserve more attention. We are rightfully and regularly reminded by our readers that not all of them are based in big cities or practising at large law firms. Diversity is important in many respects, and every corner of Canada has interesting lawyers with stories to tell. We want to hear from all of them.

But one large segment of the legal community that is sometimes difficult for us to hear from is the public service. While some who serve the public, such as politicians and judges, are well known, the bureaucrats who head up our public institutions often do so out of the media glare. And that is usually how they like it.

But in our cover story this month, we profile what I think are some very interesting civil servants. Their work does not fit the stereotype of toiling away in a cubicle in Ottawa with no one noticing. Their work is high profile, fast paced and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

As Ottawa-based reporter Elizabeth Thompson outlines, Yves Côté, commissioner of Canada Elections, and Stéphane Perrault, chief electoral officer, are facing threats to Canada’s elections that they could have never even contemplated a few years ago.

“Bots. Internet trolls,” Thompson writes. “Attempts to disrupt or influence elections around the world with fake news, deep fake videos and sophisticated social media disinformation campaigns. Some of it is the work of countries such as Russia, Iran or North Korea. Some of it is the result of domestic players and enterprising hackers.”

And no one can fix the problem better than public servants with new powers granted to them by the federal government. Perrault’s job is to conduct the election and counter potential misinformation about the voting process such as directing people to the wrong polling station or telling people the vote has been cancelled. Côté’s role is to detect attempts to disrupt the election or break the law, investigate what happened and prosecute offenders.

No tech superstar can fix this problem. No politician or judge or law firm lawyer has the knowledge and tools to protect our democracy. Perrault and Côté will be working with all these people and more with the new tools they have been given under Bill C-76, adopted in December, which contains several changes to the way Canada’s next election will be held and gives officials more powers to deal with any attempts to disrupt the election campaign or the vote.

Anyone who cares about our democracy should wish them well. We will be watching them. They deserve our attention.