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Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on April 13, 2021 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld

Canada’s federal election watchdog has been investigating a complaint of foreign interference during the 2021 ballot in the B.C. riding of Steveston-Richmond East, according to the former Conservative MP who lost his seat in that vote.

Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu said he was interviewed twice by staff from the Commissioner of Canada Elections in 2023. To his knowledge, he said, investigators have visited the riding three times.

The interviews were conducted at a Richmond, B.C., hotel, Mr. Chiu said. The investigators, who introduced themselves as former RCMP officers, said they were probing allegations of foreign interference in the 2021 election, he said.

The office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, however, refused to comment on its investigations or whether any probes might lead to enforcement actions.

Commissioner Caroline Simard told MPs in March that her office had been reviewing complaints of wrongdoing – not just foreign interference – related to the 2019 election and the 2021 election.

Mr. Chiu said he first became aware that the commissioner’s office was looking into Steveston-Richmond East in February, 2023 and he last talked to investigators in the early summer.

He said investigators asked him about his interactions with different communities in the Greater Vancouver area, specifically the Chinese Canadian community. He told them about how he came under criticism from pro-Chinese government critics for his support of a motion condemning Beijing’s repression of the Uyghurs and of his role in helping monitor local Hong Kong elections in 2019.

Myriam Croussette, a spokesperson for the Commissioner’s office, said the office would not confirm the receipt of complaints or the initiation of a review or investigation.

“These rules are intended to protect the presumption of innocence and to avoid compromising ongoing investigations,” she said. “It is only in the event that a review or an investigation leads to formal compliance or enforcement action that limited information is made public – usually outlining the nature of the allegation and the measures taken by the commissioner.”

Asked about Mr. Chiu’s comments, she noted the confidentiality provision that prevents the commissioner from disclosures does not apply to people outside the office.

A public inquiry into foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections is set to begin hearings next week. Commission spokesman Michael Tansey would not say whether the inquiry plans to call the Commissioner of Canada Elections to discuss the investigation in Steveston-Richmond East.

Mr. Chiu, a one-term Conservative MP, lost his seat in the 2021 election. During the election campaign, he was the target of criticism on Chinese-language social media over his proposed bill to set up a public registry in Canada that would track foreign-influence campaigns. Data from the 2021 census indicate 47 per cent of the riding’s population identify as having Chinese ethnicity.

This disinformation effort against Mr. Chiu was also documented by the Atlantic Council think tank’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

In a Policy Options article last year, two researchers at McGill University said the disinformation campaign against Mr. Chiu was a disturbing demonstration of how propaganda tactics could be used by hostile foreign actors to interfere with Canada’s political system. He was attacked for a private member’s bill to create a public registry that would track foreign influence and agents working for foreign governments.

During the 2021 federal election campaign, Mr. Chiu’s bill was condemned on Chinese-language social media. For example, a WeChat post alleged his plan would “suppress the Chinese community” in Canada. The comments were disseminated on apps and websites widely used by some Canadians of Chinese origin.

The election campaign attack on Mr. Chiu painted his registry proposal as an effort to target all people of Chinese origin in Canada. “Once this act becomes law, all individuals or groups connected with China may be considered as spokespersons of the Chinese government and will be required to register specially,” one article on the Chinese-language social media platform WeChat alleged.

It said after this bill became law, “activities related to associations in mainland China, as well as normal Sino-Canadian economic, cultural and technological exchanges,” would “be suppressed” and “have a profound negative impact on the Chinese community.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has since embraced a foreign-agent registry and promised in March to enact one. In the ensuing 10 months, however, the Liberals have failed to follow through with enabling legislation. Consultations on designing the registry ended in early May.

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