Skip to main content

Richard Fadden, CSIS director at Citizen and Immigation Committee in Ottawa June 9, 2009.Bill Grimshaw

A senior Conservative MP says he is "very disappointed" with CSIS head Richard Fadden's controversial remarks about foreign governments wielding too much influence over Canadian politicians.

Alberta MP Deepak Obhrai, who regularly speaks on behalf of the government in the House of Commons as parliamentary secretary to the Foreign Affairs Minister, became visibly agitated Monday in Toronto when asked for his reaction to what Mr. Fadden said in a recent CBC interview. In that interview, Mr. Fadden suggested that hostile foreign entities - possibly China - had infiltrated Canadian politics, including at the municipal level in British Columbia.

"That is wrong," Mr. Obhrai said. "We all are here to promote relationships. That does not mean you are in the pocket of the government."

In B.C., municipal politicians with family roots in Asia say they are angry at the comments, even as they poke fun at the notion that China might seek to influence city councils dealing with such mundane matters as patching potholes.

Last week, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell condemned the remarks as "unprecedented and completely unprofessional."

Meanwhile, another Conservative came to Mr. Fadden's defence Monday. Monte Solberg, a former Tory cabinet minister who had Mr. Fadden as his deputy minister in the Citizenship and Immigration Department, said in a syndicated column for the QMI Agency that he gives credence to the comments by the veteran public servant, one of "Canada's most competent bureaucrats."

"I also think it's wildly irresponsible to speculate about firing him based on a single interview, especially after such a long and distinguished career of public service," Mr. Solberg said.

Mr. Obhrai's remarks in Toronto came immediately after he and nearly two dozen other Indo-Canadian federal and provincial politicians met for nearly an hour with visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

During the meeting, the Canadian politicians and the Indian Prime Minister spoke about strengthening ties between the two countries and on working to resolve concerns over such issues as business fraud.

In British Columbia, municipal politicians said they are baffled, angered and amused by Mr. Fadden's comments.

At Vancouver City Hall, lyrics for the 1960s hit Secret Agent Man have been reworked as "Secret Asian Man" in reference to councillors Kerry Jang, George Louie and Raymond Chow, who danced around as another councillor sang the new anthem.

But the reaction to Mr. Fadden's comments is not uniformly merry: Mr. Jang questioned the CSIS head's competence as the country's top spy. "I was dumbfounded by the allegations and then I was angered when there was no evidence," Mr. Jang said. "If he could show that much lack of judgment, is he really competent enough to run our security services?"

Burnaby Councillor Anne Kang - now affectionately dubbed "Agent Kang" by colleagues - wondered how safety bylaws and road work could be the stuff of espionage.

"I grew up here," Ms. Kang said Friday. "I was educated here and I don't have ties to the Chinese government. They didn't even say who these governments are. It's very ambiguous."

There is occasional contact between municipal politicians and Chinese officials, typically at banquets to mark the relationship between sister cities or similar events, councillors said.

Underneath the jokes, there is an undertone of hurt, and a sense that any Chinese-Canadian municipal politician in B.C. is now under a cloud of suspicion.

"They marked us," said Richard Chang, a Burnaby councillor. "If you counted the councillors in B.C., it is very easy to know how many are Chinese. Not many. If CSIS knows something, they should just let the public know. They can't just throw something out and say we are investigating."