Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

RCMP Commissioner Michael Duheme leaves after appearing as a witness at the Public Inquiry Into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions in Ottawa on April 4.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A document presented to the Foreign Interference Commission says Canadian intelligence suggests Chinese officials may have transferred around $250,000 to “threat actors” in Canada in late 2018 or early 2019.

On Thursday, the commission discussed an unclassified summary of intelligence held by security and intelligence departments and agencies – primarily the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

The document, made public as part of the commission’s continuing hearings on possible interference by China and other countries in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, says that prior to and during the 2019 election “a group of known and suspected People’s Republic of China related threat actors in Canada, including PRC officials, worked in loose coordination with one another to covertly advance PRC interests though Canadian democratic institutions.”

It adds that “some of these threat actors received financial support from the PRC,” and says “reporting indicated that 11 political candidates and 13 political staff members were assessed to be either implicated in or impacted by this group of threat actors.”

It notes that the money was likely not meant to fund political candidates, but says there were likely at least two transfers “of funds approximately $250,000″ from Chinese officials in Canada, possibly for use in foreign interference. The funds, it says, were “transferred via multiple individuals to obfuscate their origins,” through an unnamed influential community leader, to a staff member of a 2019 federal election candidate, and then an unnamed Ontario MPP.

The document says seven of the candidates were from the Liberal Party and four were from the Conservative Party, and that some appeared willing to co-operate in foreign interference “related activity” while others appeared unaware of it, because it was of a clandestine nature.

“Threat actor” is not defined in the document, but the term is often used to refer to people and groups with malign intent.

Political parties kept in dark about Chinese foreign interference in 2019 and 2021 elections

The Foreign Interference Commission inquiry, headed by Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue, was announced by the federal government in September, after revelations and reporting from The Globe and Mail on Chinese state interference in Canadian democracy. On Thursday, the inquiry heard from leading figures in CSIS and the RCMP, as well as the Department of Global Affairs and the Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s electronic spy agency.

The inquiry heard testimony from Dan Rogers, a former Communications Security Establishment official who is now deputy national security adviser to the Prime Minister. He said the CSE had gathered intelligence after the 2021 election that included allegations about a potential “distribution of funds.” The CSE had shared the intelligence with the RCMP and CSIS.

Mr. Rogers did not disclose more details about the money or where it came from.

RCMP Commissioner Michael Duheme told the inquiry that the RCMP did not open any criminal investigations into foreign interference in either the 2019 or 2021 elections. An unclassified summary of his evidence said none of the RCMP’s partners had forwarded intelligence warranting such criminal investigations.

But after the last general election the RCMP did open an investigation into foreign interference involving elections or democratic institutions, after Conservative MP Michael Chong said publicly that he had been a target of foreign interference from China.

One document presented to the inquiry showed that before the 2019 and 2021 general elections CSIS held a series of meetings with senior figures in government, including ministers and senior officials.

CSIS officials told the inquiry that foreign nationals who have come to Canada to flee oppressive regimes are being subjected to coercion by foreign states.

“What we are seeing is they are being coerced, forced, repressed, within our borders,” said Cherie Henderson, a recently retired CSIS assistant director.

CSIS Director David Vigneault warned that globalization and technology have enhanced “the ability of foreign interference to increase in speed, impact and reach within Canadian society.”

He said for people from China there is an implied or direct threat that Beijing can “touch” them, directly or indirectly, if they are not supportive of the Chinese regime. Such coercion could include threats to them or loved ones, or denials of visas to see family members in China.

“They’re reaching out anywhere around the world to try to control what is happening with the Chinese population,” he said.

Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole says China foreign interference cost party multiple seats in 2021 election

The inquiry heard that Global Affairs sent a memo in September, 2019, to foreign diplomats, reminding heads of missions that “they have a duty” not to interfere in the internal affairs of the state where they are based, under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

The memo warns consular representatives to not “conduct activities, which may either be perceived as inducing electors to vote for a particular candidate, or prohibiting them from voting for a particular candidate in any way during an election period.”

“Furthermore, accredited foreign representatives should not – directly or indirectly – make any financial contribution to a candidate, political party or political event,” the memo says.

Mr. Vigneault was asked about CSIS briefings with various MPs on recent elections. He met several times ahead of the 2019 election with Karina Gould, who at the time was minister of democratic institutions. He also met with the full cabinet, deputy ministers and others, according to a document seen by the inquiry.

He was also asked about briefings he held ahead of the 2021 election with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, then-public safety minister Bill Blair and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe