Canadian Security Intelligence Service head David Vigneault on Tuesday told Conservative MP Michael Chong that he and his family were targeted by the Chinese government after he sponsored a parliamentary motion condemning Beijing’s conduct in Xinjiang as genocide.
In an extraordinary meeting brokered by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chong met with Justin Trudeau, his national-security adviser Jody 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. Chong said the government’s negligence in notifying him of China’s targeting back in 2021 represents a significant mistake. “This is very concerning and it’s either a breakdown in the machinery of government or a political failure,” Mr. Chong said.
He recalled CSIS officials met with him on June 24, 2021. This was part of an outreach to numerous Parliamentarians that The Globe has previously reported on. “It was a broad briefing on foreign interference,” Mr. Chong said. “They did not tell me there was a diplomat in the Chinese consulate in Toronto that was targeting my family.”
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. Trudeau rejected accusations by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre in the Commons Tuesday that the Liberal government took no steps to protect MPs after such a threat was reported. “Based on briefings that I received following [Monday’s Globe] story, I know that steps have been taken to protect members when they could be in the spotlight of foreign actors because of the legitimate work they do in this place,” Mr. Trudeau said.
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. “I confirmed the serious, grave details in the Globe report, including that an individual in Canada, Mr. Wei Zhao, accredited by the Government of Canada was involved and conducting these intimidation operations” he told the Commons.
“It has become even clearer in the last 24 hours that members of Parliament, certainly opposition members, and Canadians at large, cannot rely upon the government of Canada, the executive branch of our system, to discharge its role as a defender of the realm,” he said.
“That’s why Parliament and this House in particular must vindicate its own authority and protect our own interests and those of the members of this place when those interests are under threat, as we now see.”
Members of the NDP and Bloc Québécois rose to support Mr. Chong.
The Chinese embassy in Ottawa did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Globe has asked the embassy three times for comment on this matter since April 28.
The Globe reported Monday that a July, 2021, intelligence assessment by CSIS found China’s intelligence service, the Ministry of State Security (MSS), “has taken specific actions to target Canadian MPs” linked to the February, 2021, parliamentary motion condemning Beijing’s oppression of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities.
That motion, which passed, declared that China’s conduct amounts to genocide.
The spy agency said an MSS officer sought information on an unnamed Canadian MP’s relatives “who may be located in the PRC [People’s Republic of China], for further potential sanctions.”
This effort, the CSIS report said, “is almost certainly meant to make an example of this MP and deter others from taking anti-PRC positions.”
A national-security source, whom The Globe did not name in the Monday story because they risk prosecution under the Security of Information Act, said the MP targeted was Mr. Chong, and that Mr. Zhao was working on this matter.
The Globe reported Monday that according to the top-secret intelligence assessment from CSIS, China sees Canada as a “high-priority target” and employs “incentives and punishment” as part of a vast influence network directed at legislators, business executives and diaspora communities.
The report warned that Beijing is the “foremost perpetrator” of foreign interference in Canada. Its agents are unconcerned about repercussions, the report says, because of the lack of obstacles such as a foreign-influence registry.
It’s not known whether elected officials in Canada gained access to the report, which was produced by the agency’s Intelligence Assessment Branch and dated July 20, 2021, several weeks before the federal election campaign got under way.
The assessment is presented as a “baseline for understanding the intent, motives and scope” of Beijing’s foreign interference in Canada.
The nine-page document, seen by The Globe, is the latest example of the warnings published by Canada’s security service in recent years. It’s marked top secret and for Canadian eyes only.
It said Canada needs to erect more obstacles to foreign interference. “Absent real disincentives,” such as a foreign-influence registry and indictments of foreign-interference actors, Chinese targeting of Canada is “expected to continue and increase over time.”
“Threat actors almost certainly perceive their activities in Canada to be low-risk and high reward,” the assessment said.