Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada’s spy service made the decision not to inform Conservative MP Michael Chong in 2021 that he and his family were being targeted by the Chinese government after spearheading a parliamentary motion that condemned Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs as genocide.
Mr. Trudeau said Wednesday he didn’t know about the targeting of Mr. Chong until The Globe and Mail reported it this week and cited a 2021 top-secret assessment by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
The spy agency’s explanation, he said, was that it didn’t send the report up the chain of authority because it felt this “wasn’t a significant enough concern.”
CSIS “didn’t feel that it reached a threshold that required them to pass it up – up out of CSIS – or give more than just a defensive briefing to Mr. Chong.”
Mr. Chong has said the briefings on foreign interference were general in nature and never mentioned the threat against him and his family.
The Prime Minister also said he directed CSIS this week to alert the government from now on whenever it receives intelligence on threats to MPs or their families.
“We’re making it very, very clear to CSIS and our intelligence officials that when there are concerns that talk specifically about any MP, or about their family – those need to be elevated, even if CSIS doesn’t feel that it’s a sufficient level of concern for them to take more direct action,” he said.
“We still need to know about it.”
Security experts on Wednesday said it’s difficult to understand intelligence assessments of the kind The Globe has reported on would remain at CSIS and be circulated no further.
Richard Fadden, a former director of CSIS who served as national-security adviser to Mr. Trudeau and former prime minister Stephen Harper, said at the very least such a document – which was marked top secret/Canadian eyes only – would have been sent to three or four other places.
He said this document would have been sent to the national-security adviser to the prime minister, to the Department of Global Affairs, to the Department of Public Safety and possibly the RCMP.
There was a change of national-security advisers to the Prime Minister at the end of June, 2021, several weeks before CSIS produced the intelligence assessment that talked about the targeting of an MP by China.
Vincent Rigby stepped down as national-security adviser as of June 30 that year and David Morrison, who was already the foreign and defence policy adviser to the Prime Minister, took over as acting national-security adviser. A replacement national-security adviser, Jody Thomas, wasn’t named until early 2022.
The Globe asked Mr. Morrison through the Department of Global Affairs whether he read the intelligence report in question. He did not immediately respond. The Globe also asked CSIS for comment on the Prime Minister’s statements Wednesday but it did not immediately comment. The Globe asked the Chinese embassy for comment, as it has three times since April 28, and it did not respond.
Cherie Henderson, a CSIS assistant director, told the Procedure and House Affairs Committee on Feb. 9 that the agency does warn government in these cases.
“I can say that we definitely have seen specific cases of hostile activities of states against politicians. In those specific cases, we definitely brief our government on the challenges that are being faced,” Ms. Henderson said.
Mr. Chong said Wednesday Mr. Trudeau can’t simply blame CSIS for failing to inform the government. “The Prime Minister is the head of government and responsible for the machinery of government,” he said.
The fact the Prime Minister wasn’t briefed suggests he’s not taking enough interest in foreign interference, Mr. Chong said. “It’s an appalling lack of leadership.”
He also criticized the government for not expelling a Chinese diplomat that CSIS says was involved in the targeting of his family in Hong Kong.
Testimony from CSIS to MPs earlier this year indicated the spy service was warning Ottawa about threats to MPs from foreign interference.
As The Globe reported, CSIS head David Vigneault on Tuesday told Mr. Chong that he and his family were targeted by the Chinese government after he sponsored the parliamentary motion.
In an extraordinary meeting brokered by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chong met with Justin Trudeau, Ms. Thomas and Mr. Vigneault in a West Block office on Parliament Hill.
Mr. Trudeau attended for about 10 minutes and left, after which Mr. Vigneault confirmed to Mr. Chong that he and his family were targets of China and that Zhao Wei, a Chinese diplomat in Canada, was involved.
The Globe and Mail first reported on this foreign interference Monday, citing a top-secret CSIS intelligence assessment prepared in July of 2021.
Mr. Trudeau told the Commons Tuesday that he made contact with Mr. Chong and “ensured that he got a briefing from our top security officials.”
Mr. Chong said Mr. Vigneault informed him he was authorized to read to him from the CSIS report quoted by The Globe “because it relates to a threat to you and your family.”
Ms. Thomas told Mr. Chong the government is investigating why he was not alerted about this.
Mr. Zhao is listed in the Department of Global Affairs’ record of foreign diplomats as working in China’s Toronto consulate.
In February, The Globe reported that a national-security source described Mr. Zhao as a “suspected intelligence actor.”
Mr. Chong said Tuesday he is asking Commons Speaker Anthony Rota to allow the House to decide if Mr. Zhao is in contempt of Parliament for efforts to intimidate an MP.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre expressed skepticism Wednesday at Mr. Trudeau’s explanation for why nobody raised an alert in 2021.
“It is impossible to believe that he was not made aware of these threats two years ago when they were documented by his own intelligence services,” he said in the Commons. “How does the Prime Minister expect us to believe such a ridiculous claim?
“There are two options. Option one: either he did not know and he is incompetent, or he did know and he is dishonest.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh penned a letter to Mr. Trudeau Wednesday saying while he is glad to hear Mr. Chong was given a briefing, he wants more information about how potential threats against other MPs are handled by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says CSIS and other intelligence officials must ensure any threats against MPs are made known after learning Conservative MP Michael Chong was never informed about a threat made against his family in Hong Kong. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre says that is hard to believe.
The Canadian Press