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The Parliament Hill Peace Tower is framed in an iron fence on Wellington Street in Ottawa on Thursday, March 12, 2020.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

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A Commons committee probing Chinese interference in the 2019 federal election is being recalled Tuesday during Parliament’s scheduled two-week break to extend its mandate to include the 2021 campaign, in response to what opposition MPs have called “shocking revelations” reported by The Globe and Mail.

Conservative, New Democratic and Bloc Québécois MPs demanded that the procedure and House affairs committee resume hearings after The Globe reported Friday that China had actively worked in the 2021 campaign to influence voters to elect a Liberal minority government and defeat Conservatives unfriendly to Beijing.

In a letter to Liberal committee chair Bardish Chagger, opposition MPs described The Globe’s report as “shocking revelations regarding Beijing’s strategy to interfere and influence Canada’s democratic institutions.” The committee has been holding hearings into Chinese influence operations aimed at electing 11 candidates – nine Liberals and two Conservatives – from the Greater Toronto Area in the 2019 election.

The MPs wrote that The Globe’s report of Chinese interference during the 2021 election is “deeply troubling,” and that it requires the committee to expand the scope of its study.

The committee will meet Tuesday afternoon to adopt a motion on extending its scope, and to decide who to call as witnesses. Among the people committee members are considering calling is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford. They also want to hear again from senior Canadian Security Intelligence Service officials, as well as Foreign Affairs Minister Mèlanie Joly, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

CSIS documents show China warned ‘Canadian friends’ of foreign-interference investigations

These ministers have previously testified before the committee, but did not disclose the extent of Chinese election interference. Mr. LeBlanc testified that China “regularly attempts to interfere in various aspects of Canadian society,” and that elections are no exception. But he said Chinese efforts to interfere did not affect the overall outcomes of the 2019 and 2021 elections. Mr. LeBlanc also assured the committee that Canada’s elections are both free and fair.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper, a member of the committee, said the government has misled Canadians. “The public has been kept in the dark,” he said. “This is a very serious matter and Canadians deserve transparency from this government about what it knew about Chinese Communist Party interference in the 2021 election.”

Secret and top secret CSIS documents viewed by The Globe explain how China used disinformation campaigns and undeclared cash donations to support preferred Liberal candidates in the 2021 election. The documents also say Beijing directed Chinese students studying in Canada to work as campaign volunteers.

The documents say the Chinese government encouraged sympathetic donors to provide campaign contributions to candidates favoured by China – donations for which they would receive tax credits.

Then, according to a CSIS report from Dec. 20, 2021, political campaigns quietly, and illegally, returned parts of the contributions – “the difference between the original donation and the government’s refund” – back to the donors.

The documents outline how China preferred the Liberals over the other parties, but wanted them held to a minority government. In July, eight weeks before the September, 2021, election, one Chinese diplomat is quoted as saying Beijing “likes it when the parties in Parliament are fighting with each other.”

The classified documents show that Chinese influence operations went beyond election interference, employing tactics to target Canadian legislators and sway public opinion through proxies in the business and academic communities.

CSIS was required to submit documents on Chinese election interference in the 2019 election to the Commons committee, but they were heavily redacted.

NDP whip Rachel Blaney, a committee member, said the revelations in The Globe are alarming, and that Canadians have to be able to trust their political system.

“The details released by The Globe and Mail last week about interference in the last federal election are rightly disturbing,” she said. “It’s crucial that we get urgent answers at our parliamentary committee about what happened. The government has to ensure this never happens again, because Canadians deserve to have confidence in the fairness and transparency of their institutions.”

Mr. Cooper said he is dismayed that Mr. Trudeau has played down China’s meddling in the 2019 and 2021 elections. He accused the Prime Minister of “turning a blind eye to this interference, because at the end of the day it benefited the Liberal Party.”

The CSIS documents outlining China’s activities in the 2021 election were shared with senior government officials, including the Privy Council Office, which reports directly to the Prime Minister’s Office. Many of these documents were also shared with Canada’s Five Eyes allies – the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand – as well as German and French spy services.

“It is impossible to believe that the Prime Minister is unaware of this and was unaware of this in both the 2019 and 2021 elections,” Mr. Cooper said.

The Prime Minister has said he expects CSIS to hunt down the people who showed the documents to The Globe.

Ann-Clara Vaillancourt, a spokesperson for the PMO, said in a statement that interference by China is “not new and is not a secret,” and that it happens in other democracies as well. But she insisted those activities did not change the election results.

“The 2019 and the 2021 elections were determined by Canadians, and Canadians alone, at the voting booth,” she said.

The CSIS documents say the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership in Beijing was “pressuring its consulates to create strategies to leverage politically [active] Chinese community members and associations within Canadian society.”

One of the CSIS reports viewed by The Globe talks of how China’s former consul-general in Vancouver, Tong Xiaoling, boasted in 2021 about how she had helped defeat two Conservative MPs.

None of this information was shared with the committee, or with candidates who were targeted by China in the 2021 election.

“Both the Conservative party and individual candidates who were targeted were kept in the dark, even though our security and intelligence agencies were aware of interference that was taking place in a co-ordinated and sophisticated manner,” Mr. Cooper said.

Ms. Vaillancourt said the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol panel, an independent panel set up in 2019 to assess and analyze foreign election interference, had access to the most highly classified information. The panel concluded that “while foreign interference attempts absolutely existed, the 2019 and 2021 elections unfolded with integrity,” she said.

But Walied Soliman, who served as the co-chair of the 2021 Conservative election campaign, said the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) task force, which the government created before the 2019 election, did not take his party’s concerns about foreign interference seriously.

“Our party was seeing clear signs of tampering in ridings with substantial Chinese diasporas,” he said. “We were met with shrugged shoulders and complete ambivalence. It was truly unreal.”

Former federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has said interference by China in the 2021 election campaign cost the party eight or nine seats. The Liberals won 160 seats, compared with 119 for the Conservatives, 32 for the Bloc Québécois, 25 for the NDP and two for the Greens.

Ms. Vaillancourt said Beijing’s efforts to spread disinformation through Chinese state media and on social media are “absolutely a concern” for the government. She said that concern extends to illegal funding of preferred candidates.

“It’s why we passed legislation to close fundraising loopholes to keep foreign money out of our elections; put tighter controls on advertising and online platforms to prevent malicious ‘dark advertising’; and enhance the integrity of the voters list, ensuring that only Canadian citizens can register and vote.”

She said Ottawa is taking measures to bolster cybersecurity and is studying whether to set up a foreign agent registry, something it has been examining for two years.

Australia and the United States have registries that keep track of all people paid to influence governments on behalf of foreign countries.