The RCMP is investigating broad foreign interference by China in Canadian affairs, says Commissioner Brenda Lucki, but she declined to detail precisely what type of activities are being probed by the federal police force.
In a letter sent on Monday to a House of Commons committee studying possible Beijing interference in the 2019 general election, Commissioner Lucki said Mounties lacked evidence of wrongdoing in that vote but they are looking at wider interference by China, including “interference in democratic processes” in Canada.
“In the context of the 2019 federal general election, the RCMP did not have any criminal investigations into election-related activities as there was no evidence at the time,” she wrote in the letter to the committee on procedure and House affairs. “That said, the RCMP can confirm that it currently does have investigations into broader foreign-actor interference activities.”
Commissioner Lucki said “these investigations are ongoing” and that she could not reveal details that could “reasonably be expected to be injurious to the conduct of international affairs, the defence of Canada or any state allied or associated with Canada.” The letter was obtained by The Globe and Mail.
Canadian officials have stepped up accusations that Beijing has been interfering in this country’s domestic affairs as well as those of other countries.
At the recent G20 summit in Indonesia, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told President Xi Jinping of serious concerns about China’s “interference” in Canada. Mr. Xi later berated the Prime Minister for releasing what he considered to be a private conversation.
Last week, Mr. Trudeau elaborated to the House that “there are consistent engagements by representatives of the Chinese government into Canadian communities, with local media, reports of illicit Chinese police stations.” The RCMP is investigating reports that China is operating more than 50 police stations including three in the Greater Toronto Area.
Mr. Trudeau got a Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) briefing on foreign interference in January, 2020, and the following year, the government sent a letter to all MPs with advice on how to counter foreign interference.
In Nov. 1 testimony to MPs, Adam Fisher, director-general of intelligence assessments at CSIS, warned that China is the “foremost aggressor” when it comes to foreign interference in Western countries, and that it works within their political systems to “corrupt” them. Mr. Fisher added that Beijing looks to “interfere domestically in all respects. That includes in certain elections and ridings.”
CSIS filed heavily redacted documents to the procedure and House affairs committee saying foreign states engage in interference activities at all levels of government. The spy agency said Beijing primarily targets “Chinese-language media outlets operating in Canada and members of the Chinese-Canadian community” as part of its influence operations.
Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault also told the committee last week that he was not aware of “any specifics about campaign interference” by China in the 2019 election.
Commissioner Lucki’s letter was sent to MPs on the same day that a former employee of Quebec’s power utility, who is charged with spying on behalf of China, was granted bail. Yuesheng Wang, 35, is the first person to be charged with economic espionage under Canada’s Security of Information Act.
RCMP is also investigating whether two fired scientists from Canada’s top infectious-disease laboratory in Winnipeg passed on sensitive information to China. CSIS has held private briefings with MPs to warn them about efforts by China and its agents of influence to covertly cultivate relations with elected officials to gain sway over parliamentary debates and government decision-making.
On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly unveiled a long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy that promises to bolster the ability of national-security agencies to combat foreign influence and disinformation campaigns in the region and in Canadian affairs. The policy represents a tougher approach to China, which it calls an “increasingly disruptive” power.
Beijing’s envoy to Canada, Cong Peiwu, on Monday assailed the new strategy during a speech at the University of Ottawa. He accused Canada of following the “United States’s practice of creating division and fomenting confrontation” in the Asia Pacific.
The University of Ottawa would not allow Radio-Canada or The Canadian Press to film his remarks. And a Globe and Mail photographer was not allowed to accompany a Globe reporter into the event. The university did not respond to a request for comment on why it agreed to the Chinese request not to have the speech filmed.
Mr. Cong was dogged by demonstrators outside the event who were rallying in solidarity with rare protests in major Chinese cities – a show of civil disobedience unprecedented since Mr. Xi assumed power a decade ago.
“We are here to say ‘no’ to the regime in China,” said Hiroshi Takeuchi, a Hong Kong resident currently in Canada.
Another protester, who said he only arrived from China 120 days ago, said he was there to show support for “my fellow Chinese friends back home.” He would only give his first name as Alex for fear of retribution by Beijing. Alex said he was surprised at the public backlash in China. “I really didn’t think it would happen.”
Mehmet Tohti, executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, who was also protesting, criticized the University of Ottawa for providing Mr. Cong a platform to speak – given that Beijing denies it is persecuting Uyghurs.
He said public institutions in Canada “should only condemn China’s ambassador rather than legitimizing bullying and intimidation in Canada.”
Mr. Cong defended China’s rule in his remarks at the university. “Our way of doing things suits our needs and will be good for the Chinese people.”
The two dozen protesters outside chanted “Free China. Free Tibet. Free Hong Kong” as Mr. Cong spoke. University of Ottawa officials lowered blinds in the room where he was speaking but the sound of the chanting could still be heard.
Protests against China’s strict zero-COVID policy and restrictions on freedoms have spread to at least a dozen cities around the world in a show of solidarity with displays of defiance in China over the weekend.
Hundreds of people rallied in Vancouver in sympathy with the Chinese protests. Protesters lit candles and held up blank sheets of paper, in what has become a Chinese symbol of dissent.
The protests on the mainland were triggered by a fire in China’s Xinjiang region last week that killed 10 people who were trapped in their apartments. Protesters said lockdown measures were partly to blame, though officials denied that.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong expressed concerns that the University of Ottawa limited media access to the Chinese envoy’s speech.
“Canadian universities should host free and open debate in a democratic society and I think that means that journalists and others can attend public events such as those involving Beijing’s ambassador to Canada,” he said.
Mr. Chong scoffed at Mr. Cong’s criticism of Canada as being a U.S. lackey, saying Ottawa is one of the last Western countries to recognize the growing military, economic and diplomatic threat from Beijing.
“Our policy has been for a long time out of sync with Washington and many of our closest allies,” he said.
-With files from The Canadian Press and Reuters