Former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley is calling for an independent inquiry into China’s sophisticated strategy to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
Mr. Kingsley, who served in the post from 1990 to 2007, said it is disturbing that CSIS documents reveal Chinese strategy to influence Canada’s 2021 election and illegal methods to help favoured candidates in the two most recent campaigns.
“The reason why this is important is that the legitimacy of government is what is at stake,” Mr. Kingsley told The Globe and Mail Thursday. “We have to trust that the electoral process is not being tampered with by a foreign government.”
“We must do everything we can to protect the integrity of our electoral system,” he said. “We need to find out what has transpired. I favour an independent inquiry because this is what will satisfy Canadians. It is not a minor issue.”
Mr. Kingsley said an independent inquiry would also determine whether the Canadian Security Intelligence Service turned over its intelligence on China’s illegal interference to the Commissioner of Canada Elections Caroline J. Simard to investigate. Her office said it is not allowed to reveal if anyone brought forward allegations to investigate. CSIS does not discuss its investigations.
The Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday declined to comment on whether Justin Trudeau would support or launch an independent inquiry into election interference.
The full extent of the Chinese interference operation is revealed in both secret and top-secret CSIS reports viewed by The Globe. The documents outline how China backed the re-election of the Trudeau Liberals – but only to another minority government – and worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered to be unfriendly to Beijing.
CSIS documents show China warned ‘Canadian friends’ of foreign-interference investigations
The Globe reported that the CSIS documents show how China spread falsehoods on social media and provided undeclared cash donations in the 2021 election. The documents also say Beijing directed Chinese students studying in Canada to work as campaign volunteers and illegally returned a portion of a donation so the donor was not out of pocket after claiming a tax receipt.
“That is against the law. That is against the Canada Elections Act,” Mr. Kingsley said.
The highly classified documents also detail the role China’s consulate in Toronto played to help the campaigns of 11 candidates in the 2019 federal election. The Globe has reported that nine Liberal and two Conservative candidates were favoured by Beijing.
Mr. Kingsley said CSIS should provide the names of the 11 candidates “not because we want to contest the results but so we can trace who contributed to their campaigns.”
“They can’t say 11 and not tell us who they are so that an independent person can come to a conclusion before the next election,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau has played down China’s meddling, saying this foreign interference did not affect the outcome of both elections.
However, Mr. Kingsley said: “The point is we do not know what impact [China] had and therefore we cannot say they had no impact. That is why it is important to find out which campaigns were affected.”
The CSIS documents show that the former Chinese consul-general in Vancouver bragged in late 2021 about how she helped defeat two Conservative MPs. One of them was Conservative Kenny Chiu, an outspoken critic of Beijing.
Speaking to reporters in Halifax on Thursday, the Prime Minister defended the soundness of the 2019 and 2021 elections, noting that the Liberals set up a “critical incident election panel of our top public servants” who had access to intelligence data “to make sure that Canadians could have confidence that the integrity of our elections held.”
This panel, and a government task force charged with investigating foreign interference during elections, did not report any instances where either election was compromised, Mr. Trudeau said. “That does not mean, nor have we ever contended, that there isn’t ongoing efforts by countries like China to interfere in our democracies,” he added.
What is this government doing to protect Canada’s sovereignty against China?
Mr. Kingsley said the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol panel, set up in 2019 to assess and analyze foreign election interference, is not independent because it is made up of senior civil servants who report to the Prime Minister.
“We need an independent person there because it is part of the electoral process to have an independent person there,” he said. “Things would have been different if there had been an independent person sitting there.”
Mr. Kingsley said the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) task force, which the government created to monitor election threats during the 2019 and 2021 campaigns, should have alerted the public and political parties about what China was doing.
Walied Soliman, who served as the co-chair of the 2021 Conservative election campaign, said the SITE task force did not take his party’s concerns about foreign interference seriously. Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has alleged that the party lost up to nine seats in that election because of Chinese interference.
Earlier this week, Mr. Trudeau criticized opposition parties for raising concerns about China’s interference. He warned that they risked eroding faith in past elections, saying this would play into the hands of foreign governments who are “trying to undermine people’s confidence in democracy itself.”
Mr. Trudeau has said that the leaks of CSIS documents need to be investigated.
And on Thursday, he asserted that “there are so many inaccuracies in those leaks.” He did not say what was inaccurate in the reporting, which was based on the CSIS documents.
The Commons committee on procedure and House affairs has been holding hearings on China’s interference in the 2019 election and voted this week to extend the mandate to the 2021 election in response to The Globe revelations.
Asked if the Conservatives would support an independent inquiry, Michael Cooper, the Conservative democratic reform critic, said “we need to look at all options” to determine what election interference took place in 2019 and 2021.
NDP House Leader Peter Julian said the New Democrats would support an inquiry but want to see if the existing committee investigation will work.
“The reports of foreign interference must be addressed so Canadians can have confidence in our elections. We would support an inquiry,” he said.
“But we also think Canadians can’t wait that long for answers. That’s why we want a full committee investigation, and we believe that any evidence of election law breaking – like rebating the non-refundable parts of donations – should be turned over to Elections Canada for investigation.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Commissioner of Canada Elections Caroline J. Simard. This version has been updated.