The evidence of China’s interference in Canada’s democracy was already alarming. Now, it’s doubly so, with fresh revelations that Beijing not only meddled with successive federal elections but also attempted to intimidate a sitting MP.
The Globe and Mail previously reported, based on Canadian Security Intelligence Service documents, that Beijing operatives tried to swing some riding outcomes in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, although no one is saying those efforts changed who formed government.
The interference that CSIS described – including disinformation targeted at members of the Chinese diaspora in Canada, and illegal donations and tax fraud in some local campaigns – was troubling enough.
But The Globe reported on Monday, based on the leak of yet another top-secret CSIS report, that in 2021 Chinese intelligence operatives targeted the family of Conservative MP Michael Chong in order to intimidate him.
Mr. Chong was among a number of MPs who voted in favour of a February, 2021, Parliamentary motion that condemned China’s inhumane treatment of Muslim Uyghurs. He was singled out because he has family in Hong Kong.
The CSIS report, dated July 20, 2021, said China’s intelligence service was seeking information on his relatives “who may be located in the [People’s Republic of China], for further potential sanctions.” This effort, CSIS said at the time, “is almost certainly meant to make an example of this MP and deter others from taking anti-PRC positions.”
The report also said a Chinese diplomat in Canada was involved in the effort to silence a Canadian legislator, and that Canada’s lack of a foreign agents registry helped to make this country a “high-priority target.”
This is appalling. It’s a concrete and chilling example of China’s efforts to influence people in Canada, legislators included, through the use of intimidation.
Equally appalling is the fact that the government appears to have done nothing with information from its intelligence service that Beijing was plotting to intimidate a sitting MP.
As Mr. Chong said Monday, no one thought it pertinent to warn him that there was an intelligence report saying his family risked being harmed by Beijing’s henchmen overseas.
Furthermore, Ottawa never expelled the diplomat involved in the plot. Just last month, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly told the House of Commons that the government would “send diplomats packing very, very, very quickly” if there was evidence they were involved in interference. And yet, back in 2021, there was just such evidence and no one was sent anywhere at all.
In fact, Ottawa has done nothing but stall in the time since the extent of Chinese interference has been exposed by repeated CSIS leaks to The Globe and Mail.
The Trudeau government has refused to call a public inquiry into foreign election interference, instead handing that responsibility to someone who happens to be a family friend of the Prime Minister. And it has yet to table a concrete proposal to create a registry of foreign agents in Canada, instead talking up the need for consultations.
The government’s inaction has no doubt reinforced a feeling among Chinese agents operating in Canada – and which was noted in the July, 2021, CSIS report – that they needn’t worry about repercussions. “Threat actors almost certainly perceive their activities in Canada to be low-risk and high reward,” the report said.
And why not. If CSIS is aware of a plot to use an MP’s family against him and nothing is done – if a Chinese diplomat can cross a red line with impunity – then what chance is there Canada will ever offer any pushback?
On Monday, Mr. Trudeau condemned the targeting of Mr. Chong and said he’d asked his security officials to investigate The Globe’s report. That’s not enough, and it’s far too late.
It has become more critical than ever that Canadians learn through a full-fledged public inquiry what the Trudeau government knew about Chinese attempts to interfere in our democracy, when it knew it, and what it did about it.
The only thing known at this point is what the government didn’t do. It didn’t warn an MP when his family was under threat, it didn’t expel a diplomat identified as a plotter against that MP, it hasn’t created a foreign agents registry, and it hasn’t called an inquiry into foreign interference.
All of which underscores the biggest question of all: Why?