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Canadian Security Intelligence Service Director David Vigneault makes his way to the procedure and House affairs committee on Parliament Hill on March 2.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The head of Canada’s spy service says an investigation is under way to find those who leaked highly classified information on Chinese election interference, and suggested the whistleblowers may have been frustrated by the federal government’s handling of Beijing’s intrusion into the democratic process.

Appearing before a House of Commons committee investigating Chinese interference, David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, declined to answer questions about whether the government ignored warnings of China’s influence operations in the 2019 and 2021 elections.

Mr. Vigneault faced queries about the leaks and whether there are any tensions between CSIS and the Liberal government.

“There is an investigation under way by CSIS and our partners regarding the sources of the information, the leaks,” he told MPs. Noting that Canada is a democracy, the director added: “There are ways for people to express their dissatisfaction.”

Mr. Vigneault told the committee that CSIS has internal processes for intelligence officers to air their concerns about how CSIS investigations of foreign-interference operations have been dealt with by the federal government.

“In an intelligence agency like ours, there are always different points of view and very serious discussions,” he said, when asked by Bloc Québécois MP Christine Normandin whether leaks to The Globe and Mail and Global News reflect internal CSIS tensions about how information was handled by the government.

“There are measures within CSIS for those who are dissatisfied with how information is handled to use a process to deal with that.”

On Thursday, the Commons procedure and House affairs committee adopted a motion calling on the Trudeau government to launch a “national public inquiry” into foreign interference in Canada’s political system.

The motion, which was supported by opposition parties, is not binding on the government.

Campbell Clark: Trudeau now has a yes-or-no question on Chinese election interference inquiry

It calls for the inquiry to investigate harassment of “diaspora groups by hostile foreign governments” and asks that the head of the inquiry be selected by unanimous agreement among the House leaders of officially recognized parties in the Commons.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to answer a question about whether Mr. Trudeau will call an inquiry now that this motion has passed. Instead, it referred The Globe to his past comments on the matter, where he has resisted a call for an inquiry.

Mr. Vigneault told MPs on the committee that the leaks to media “reveal sensitive sources, methodologies and techniques” and that Canada’s adversaries “are listening and this could subsequently threaten operations and even the physical safety and security of human sources and employees.”

He said the leaks of secret and top-secret information that were shared with Canada’s closest intelligence partners undermines their confidence in CSIS’s ability to keep secrets. “It is a very serious matter,” he said

Mr. Vigneault assured MPs that CSIS takes “all allegations of foreign interference seriously” but declined to discuss the documents viewed by The Globe that explain how Beijing sought the return of a Liberal minority government and defeat Conservatives viewed as anti-China in the 2021 election.

The Globe reported that China used disinformation campaigns against Conservatives and provided undeclared cash to preferred candidates. The documents also said friendly business owners hired international students, studying in Canada, to work as campaign volunteers, and illegally returned portions of donations so donors were not out of pocket after claiming a tax receipt.

“I am not at liberty to disclose information directly or indirectly that would provide classified information in a public setting,” Mr. Vigneault said, but added that the Prime Minister was briefed regularly on foreign interference.

The CSIS director also declined to comment on documents that allege China targeted 11 preferred candidates, nine Liberals and two Conservatives, in the 2019 election.

“I will not be able to speak specifically about who may or may not have been the subject of interference,” he said. “For legal reasons, I cannot share that information.”

David Morrison, who is current deputy minister of foreign affairs and previously served as acting national-security adviser to the Prime Minister, told MPs that intelligence reports are only one stream of input in decision-making.

“Intelligence rarely paints a full or concrete or actionable picture,” he said.

Mr. Morrison cited the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to make his point, where American intelligence about alleged weapons of mass destruction possessed by Baghdad turned out to be wrong.

Mr. Morrison, who also previously served as foreign and defence adviser to the Prime Minister, told MPs that intelligence “is often inaccurate or partial or incomplete.”

Conservative MP Michael Cooper asked Mr. Morrison how many Chinese diplomats Canada has expelled in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. The deputy foreign minister said none as far as he was aware.

Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault said the tactics used by China and its proxies are illegal but added that “none of the information in The Globe was shared with me” from CSIS. And while they may not have affected the outcome of the 2019 and 2021 elections, these activities cannot be dismissed.

“While it is not possible to draw a straight line between foreign influence and the outcome of a particular election, acts of foreign interference attack the fairness of the electoral process and must be addressed to protect our democracy,” he said.

Liberal MP Greg Fergus used some of his committee time to raise the question of whether anonymous leaks to journalists about Chinese state interference could themselves “represent a form of foreign interference.”

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang pushed back against allegations that Chinese embassies and consulates in Canada were trying to interfere in Canadian elections. In a ministry statement, Mr. Qin said the alleged interference was “completely false and nonsensical,” and that China firmly opposes it.

“The Canadian side should take practical measures to ensure the normal performance of duties of Chinese diplomatic missions in Canada, and prevent rumours and speculation from interfering with the relations between both countries,” the statement said.

At the committee hearings, Commissioner of Canada Elections Caroline Simard said her office, which investigates election violations, is probing two incidents of foreign interference in the 2021 election that have now become public. The Globe has reported that China’s former consul-general in Vancouver boasted about defeating Conservative MPs Kenny Chiu and Alice Wong.

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Michael Duheme told MPs that the Mounties are not investigating any allegations of foreign interference in the 2019 or 2021 federal elections. “We did not receive any actionable intelligence that would warrant us to initiate a criminal investigation.”

Mr. Duheme also said no charges have been laid in the case where the Chinese government has been operating illegal overseas police stations in Canada. He said the RCMP took “overt action” at four separate sites in Canada, resulting in the shutdown of these stations.

“Our understanding is they have ceased and we are continuing an investigation.” He said Chinese diplomats have registered their unhappiness with the RCMP over its actions.

With a report from Reuters

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