Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is awfully tough on suspected Chinese spy balloons. After the United States shot one down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4, he authorized a similar fate for another flying in Canadian airspace a week later.

If only Mr. Trudeau were as quick to pull the trigger on Chinese interference in Canadian elections.

It was already known that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service briefed him last fall about efforts by China’s consulate in Toronto to meddle in the 2019 general election by targeting 11 candidates in the Greater Toronto Area.

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But then last week came the bombshell that China deployed a sophisticated strategy – one that involved possible fraud – in the 2021 election in yet another effort to ensure an outcome favourable to its interests.

According to top-secret CSIS documents seen by The Globe and Mail, Beijing pulled the strings on an operation that had two aims: to ensure that a minority Liberal government was returned in 2021, and that certain Conservative candidates were defeated. (The Tories say Beijing’s efforts cost them up to nine seats.)

And yet, faced with this latest troubling intelligence, Mr. Trudeau is sticking to a line that he first used last fall in Question Period: Neither election was interfered with to a degree that changed their outcomes, and Canadians can rest assured that their democracy is secure.

A suspected spy balloon floating 30,000 feet above Yukon? Shoot it down. A concerted effort to interfere in elections at ground level? Nothing to see here, folks.

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In fact, the only security issue Mr. Trudeau has expressed real concern over is the fact that top-secret CSIS reports were leaked. “It’s certainly a sign that security within CSIS needs to be reviewed. And I’m expecting CSIS to take the issue very seriously,” he said over the weekend.

The PM is way off-base on this matter. It is undoubtedly true that Chinese interference didn’t change who formed government in 2019 and 2021. But waiting for Beijing to actually rig a Canadian election should not be anyone’s standard for when to become concerned.

This was not simply a matter of Beijing pushing influential players in Canada, including some in the Chinese-language media, to scare voters into thinking that a Conservative government would ban Chinese students from some universities – although that was certainly part of it.

According to CSIS, Beijing operatives gave undeclared cash donations to political campaigns, and had businesses hire international Chinese students who then volunteered in electoral campaigns on a full-time basis.

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Beijing also pushed sympathizers to donate to the campaigns of favoured candidates, for which they receive a tax credit from the federal government. The political campaigns were then to return the difference between the original donation and the government’s refund to the donors.

These would be illegal activities. And the possibility that the campaigns of the targeted candidates themselves participated in such activities is off the charts. Is it possible that MPs involved in this are sitting in the House of Commons today?

Mr. Trudeau needs to respond forcefully to CSIS’s findings. The information about illegal donations, tax fraud and the use of paid volunteers at the very least needs to be referred to the Commissioner of Canada Elections and the Canada Revenue Agency, if not directly to the RCMP.

Ottawa also needs to sanction members of the Communist Party of China and expel diplomats involved in the co-ordination of the election interference, even at the risk of Beijing’s usual and tiresome tit-for-tat response.

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Above all, the next bill the Trudeau government tables should be one to create a foreign-agent registry to track people paid to influence Canadian governments on behalf of foreign countries, a step that the U.S. and other countries have already taken.

More to the point, China targeted a sitting Conservative MP in 2021 because he had tabled a private member’s bill to create such an agency. The start of a rebuke to China’s interference must be the passage of that bill.

Anything less than concrete actions such as these will demonstrate a lack of will, bordering on acquiescence, on the part of the Trudeau government to protect the integrity of this country’s elections from Chinese interference – and will open the door to further meddling.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that Elections Canada enforces compliance with the Canada Elections Act. In fact, the Commissioner of Canada Elections has that responsibility. This version has been corrected.