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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, in Ottawa, on Oct. 3.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Members of Parliament, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Official Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre, were the targets of a disinformation campaign known as “Spamouflage” and carried out by the Chinese government in August and September, Global Affairs Canada says.

“This campaign targeted dozens of MPs from across the political spectrum and spanning multiple geographic regions of Canada, including the Prime Minister, the leader of the Official Opposition, and several members of cabinet,” the department said Monday in a statement.

The department’s Rapid Response Mechanism, which was set up to counter foreign state-sponsored disinformation, said the aim was to discourage MPs from criticizing China’s authoritarian Communist Party.

“These spam comments claimed that a critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Canada had accused the various MPs of criminal and ethical violations,” Global Affairs said. “The Spamouflage campaign also included the use of likely ‘deepfake’ videos, which are digitally modified by artificial intelligence, targeting the individual.”

The department said Spamouflage is a tactic that uses networks of new or hijacked social media accounts to post and amplify propaganda messages across multiple platforms. An analysis from the Rapid Response Mechanism team suggests the bot network could be part of the well-known Spamouflage network, which has been publicly reported on by Meta and Microsoft and threat intelligence experts such as Graphika, who have connected the activity to China.

In August, Meta reported that it shut down thousands of Facebook and Instagram accounts, groups and pages associated with a political spam network run by Beijing that had targeted users in Australia, the United States, Britain and other parts of the world.

The Spamouflage operation aimed at Canadian politicians was seeking to “discredit and denigrate the targeted MPs through seemingly organic posts, alleging impropriety, by posting waves of social media posts and videos that called into question the political and ethical standards of the MPs, using a popular Chinese-speaking figure in Canada,” Global Affairs said.

The disinformation campaign began in early August and picked up quickly over the September long weekend. The bot network left thousands of comments in English and French on the Facebook and X accounts of MPs, the department said.

“All parliamentarians have been made aware of this campaign and have been provided with advice from the Rapid Response Mechanism on how to protect themselves from foreign interference as well as information on how to report suspected foreign interference activity.”

The department said it has been made clear to MPs who were targeted by China that “nothing observed in this activity represents a threat to their safety, or that of their family.”

Conservative MP Michael Cooper, who has been probing Chinese foreign interference on the Commons ethics committee, said fellow MPs have been grappling with attacks on social media that sound like what Global Affairs is describing.

He said this meddling is another reason why Ottawa should proceed with what he calls a long overdue package of measures to confront Chinese foreign interference.

“This has been part of an ongoing pattern that we have seen from the Beijing regime to spread disinformation, and it underscores the degree to which Beijing poses a threat to our democracy,” Mr. Cooper said. “It underscores the need for action.”

Global Affairs said it notified the various social media platforms about the Spamouflage, which resulted in much of the activity and network being removed.

In July, the government informed Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong that he was almost certainly the target of a second disinformation campaign orchestrated by Beijing in May, just as Ottawa was expelling Toronto-based Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei.

While monitoring digital traffic for the June 19 by-elections, the Rapid Response Mechanism detected a disinformation operation on WeChat directed against Mr. Chong.

In May, Mr. Chong learned from The Globe and Mail that Beijing had targeted him and his relatives in Hong Kong in the lead-up to the 2021 election, a revelation that led the federal government to expel Mr. Zhao.

Ottawa later disclosed that former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and NDP MP Jenny Kwan had also been targeted by Beijing in 2021 – and that they remain targets.

The minority Liberal government reached an agreement in September with opposition parties on the terms and timing of a long-awaited public inquiry into foreign interference, headed by Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue. For months, the Prime Minister had resisted repeated calls, including three votes in the House of Commons, to set up such an inquiry.

Kelley Currie, a former U.S. ambassador, said on Monday that Canada, the U.S. and allies should be condemning China’s foreign interference at the United Nations. She was speaking of the many documented cases of harassment and intimidation carried out against people of Chinese origin in Canada and the United States by agents of the Chinese Communist Party.

“It’s unconscionable that we have not moved already for resolutions on transnational repression at the UN and really make a statement that this is unacceptable,” Ms. Currie, a former ambassador at large for global women’s issues, told an Ottawa conference on Taiwan, organized by the Institute for Peace and Diplomacy.

“This is not going to get better unless we do something about it – by raising the costs of bad norms, of transgressing behaviour by Beijing, especially when it happens on our territory.”

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