Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claim over the weekend that he does “not have any information,” nor has he “been briefed on any federal candidates receiving any money from China,” raises a few deeply troubling possibilities.
The first is that a bombshell report from Global News, which was published on Nov. 7, and indicated that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) circulated memos and briefings about Beijing allegedly providing cash for 11 federal candidates in the 2019 election, is wrong. Global reported that according to CSIS, “China’s Toronto consulate directed a large clandestine transfer of funds to a network of at least 11 federal election candidates” through an Ontario MPP and a federal campaign staffer, though the briefings did not identify the 11 candidates by name. According to Global’s sources, the alleged “interference network” included individuals affiliated with both the Liberals and the Conservatives.
Mr. Trudeau’s insistence that he does not have any information about candidates receiving money from China may, according to this first possibility, indicate that something is amiss with Global’s reporting; that perhaps these CSIS memos do not exist, or that the timeline and/or nature of the alleged clandestine funding is off. Or that some other significant facet of the story has been misreported such that it would make sense that the Prime Minister would have no information on the matter.
But if that were the case, why wouldn’t Mr. Trudeau – or the handful of ministers who have fielded Opposition questions on the matter in the House of Commons over the last few weeks – have cleared the air by now? Indeed, if Global’s reporting is wrong, wouldn’t those in government have a responsibility to explain the nature of the inaccuracies, particularly if the public has been made wary of the integrity of our elections?
The second possibility is that Global’s reporting on the CSIS intelligence memos is accurate, but that the Prime Minister was not – and to this day, still has not – been briefed on that specific matter (contrary to Global’s reporting that Mr. Trudeau was briefed back in January). During a scrum on Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau repeated that while we have known for years about Chinese attempts to meddle in our affairs, “there has never been any information given to me on the funding of federal candidates by China.”
If CSIS has that information but never shared it with the Prime Minister, it would constitute a grave and troubling breakdown in communication between the government and Canada’s intelligence agency – one that has left legislators dangerously in the dark about Beijing’s efforts to undermine our elections and ill-equipped to develop legislative measures to try to counter them.
If that were the case, it would mean not only that CSIS is failing to fulfill its explicit mandate, but also that Canada’s Prime Minister raised the issue of election interference with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the recent G20 summit based on media reports, and not on any information presented directly by CSIS. Mr. Trudeau was asked on Sunday to confirm that he learned of allegations of Beijing’s clandestine funding operations when Global first reported them, but he did not directly answer, instead saying, “These media reports are things that we took seriously and we asked our security officials to follow up on them.”
The third possibility is one that individuals who are learned in the school of Trudeauvian spin are prone to recognize: that the Prime Minister is being careful and deliberate in his language; that when he repeatedly said he has not “been briefed on any federal candidates receiving any money from China,” he leaves open the possibility that he has been briefed on certain riding associations receiving money from China, or on individuals who would eventually become federal candidates receiving money from China outside of an election period, before they actually became federal candidates. Or else, that he has been informed of federal candidates allegedly receiving funding through a network that could somehow be traced back to Beijing, which isn’t really the same as saying he has been briefed on candidates “receiving money from China.”
Such careful, deliberate use of language has featured prominently in this government’s responses to past scandals, including when Mr. Trudeau insisted that neither he nor his office “directed” then-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to seek a deferred prosecution agreement in the criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin (which is not the same as saying no one pressured her), and more recently, when he said that his government did not put any “undue pressure” on RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to release information on the guns used in the Nova Scotia mass shooting.
Each possibility leads to disturbing conclusions about how seriously this government takes foreign interference – conclusions that Mr. Trudeau’s continued opacity on the matter only exacerbates. Weeks after the public was first told of 11 federal candidates allegedly receiving money from China, shouldn’t Canadians have more answers than questions by now?