Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he’s never received any intelligence that China clandestinely funded federal candidates in the 2019 and 2021 elections but dodged repeated questions about whether he was ever informed of efforts by Beijing to interfere in Canadian elections or domestic politics.
The leaders of the Conservative Party and Bloc Québécois mounted a concerted bid on Tuesday to find out what exactly the Prime Minister knew about Chinese election meddling after the RCMP announced Monday it is investigating Chinese interference in Canadian affairs.
On Monday, the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service tabled documents before a Commons committee that outlined their concerns about Beijing interference operations including in democratic processes. As far back as the fall of 2020, CSIS publicly warned the safety of Canadians was being jeopardized by undercover Chinese state security officials and others who were trying to silence critics using tactics that included threats of retribution against their families in China.
The Commons committee on procedure and House affairs is probing Chinese interference, including allegations in a Nov. 7 report by Global News that China’s Toronto consulate directed a large clandestine transfer of funds to a network of at least 11 federal candidates in the 2019 election and that Beijing operatives worked as their campaign staffers.
Mr. Trudeau said he has never been given any intelligence briefing that China had “directly or indirectly” provided money to help elect federal candidates.
“I have never gotten any information from any of our security agencies or police officers or intelligence officials or public servants any information of a federal candidate receiving money from China, as the allegations highlighted,” he told Question Period.
He suggested, however, that there may have been some involvement by Beijing or its proxies in Canadian elections.
“I can reassure the member and all Canadians that the 2019 and 2021 elections were not interfered with in a way that would significantly change the results of the election,” he said in response to questions from Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.
Mr. Poilievre, Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong and Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet repeatedly pushed the Prime Minister to confirm whether he was ever informed of Beijing meddling in Canadian elections.
“The question is whether or not the Prime Minister ever got information from the public service, the police or intelligence bodies on any interference of any kind by Beijing in our elections,” Mr. Poilievre said.
The Prime Minister responded that an independent panel of top civil servants and intelligence officials was set up to review the 2019 and 2021 elections and “in both cases confirmed that the integrity of our elections was not compromised.”
Mr. Trudeau told the House that interference by foreign powers is a continuing concern and can run the gamut from cyber interference to harassment of ethnic communities and attempts to influence the media.
In a letter to the committee on procedure and House affairs on Monday, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said the Mounties are investigating broad foreign interference by China in Canadian affairs. She wrote that the RCMP lacked evidence of wrongdoing in that 2019 vote but they are looking at wider interference by China, including “interference in democratic processes” in Canada.
Commissioner Lucki said “these investigations are ongoing” and 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.”
Heavily redacted documents from CSIS show Mr. Trudeau was briefed on foreign interference in January, 2020, and January, 2021, and February, 2021.
On Feb. 9, 2021, CSIS Director David Vigneault warned that foreign interference “poses a significant threat to the integrity of our political system and democratic institutions” and he said China conducts influence operations among the Chinese-Canadian community and with Chinese-language media outlets.
A briefing document dated Jan. 21, 2021, from CSIS contained a sentence saying: “Which politicians or riding associations are being targeted by FI [foreign interference].” No ridings or politicians’ names were mentioned in the redacted copy provided to MPs on the procedure and House affairs committee.
CSIS also outlined the various steps it was taking to counter foreign interference, including briefing MPs and senators, outreach to communities and efforts to reduce a foreign power’s access to critical sectors of the Canadian economy.
“Would CSIS and the RCMP have made these comments publicly without informing the Prime Minister first?” Mr. Poilievre asked Mr. Trudeau, who declined to take further questions from the Official Opposition Leader.
Separately, Mr. Trudeau spoke in support Tuesday of rare and widespread anti-government demonstrations across China, saying the Chinese “should be allowed to express themselves” and protest.
They were his first comments on China since the Canadian government unveiled a new Indo-Pacific strategy that marks a shift in Ottawa’s approach toward Beijing, calling the Chinese state an “increasingly disruptive” power.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, the Prime Minister said “Canadians are watching closely” after rare street protests erupted in cities across China over the weekend – a wave of civil disobedience unprecedented since President Xi Jinping assumed power a decade ago.
The Chinese embassy in Canada did not respond immediately to a request for comment but on Monday Beijing’s ambassador to Canada lashed out at criticism of his country.
Speaking to a University of Ottawa crowd, Chinese envoy Cong Peiwu said the ruling Chinese Communist Party will always “firmly oppose interference in China’s internal affairs under the pretense of the so-called democratic and human rights issues.”
With a report from Reuters.