Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he “shared the best information” he had at the time when asked to explain Friday why he told media that an intelligence report about China targeting an MP and his family never circulated outside Canada’s spy service.
Conservative MP Michael Chong, whom The Globe and Mail reported this week was targeted by Beijing, told the House of Commons Thursday that he was informed by a top civil servant that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s assessment went all the way to the desk of the Prime Minister’s national security adviser.
That version of events contradicts what Mr. Trudeau told reporters Wednesday, when he said the spy service didn’t feel the report met “a threshold that required them to pass it up – up out of CSIS.”
Mr. Chong’s revelation in Question Period fuelled another day of intense debate on a story that has dominated Parliament this week and shed more light on the intelligence failure surrounding the MP’s case. He didn’t learn of the threat to him and his family until The Globe reported it Monday, citing a top-secret CSIS memo dated July 20, 2021, and a national security source.
Mr. Chong told the House Thursday that Jody Thomas, the current national security adviser, told him in a telephone call earlier that day that the CSIS report did in fact make it to the person who was national security adviser at the time.
The national security adviser counsels the Prime Minister on security and intelligence matters and is associate secretary in the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Mr. Trudeau, speaking to reporters Friday at the Liberal Party’s policy convention, repeated that neither he nor the Public Safety Minister were informed of the threat to Mr. Chong in 2021 – though he did not contradict or challenge Mr. Chong’s statement about where the CSIS report wound up.
“As I said on Wednesday, to Michael Chong and to Canadians, information that was released on Monday through the media never made it to me, to my office or to the minister at the time,” he said. Bill Blair was Public Safety Minister in July, 2021, when the CSIS report was produced.
Mr. Trudeau suggested he was acting on incomplete information when he said the CSIS report never left the agency.
“In terms of what I shared, I shared the best information I had at the time on Wednesday, both to Mr. Chong and to Canadians.”
Pressed on who had misinformed him, he declined to elaborate.
“I get a briefings regularly from various sources. I’m not going to go into details on that. I will say, however, that as new information comes to light, we will share it as best as possible,” Mr. Trudeau said.
He repeated what he said earlier this week, that he directed CSIS to alert the government from now on whenever it receives intelligence on threats to MPs or their families. “Moving forward, any threat, whether it’s serious or credible or not, to a member of Parliament or their family, particularly from foreign sources, needs to be elevated to higher levels than it was.”
There was a lot of churn in the office of the national security adviser in the summer of 2021. Vincent Rigby left the post at the end of June.
Mr. Rigby in a statement said he never saw this CSIS document because he had already left. “I stepped down as NSIA (national security and intelligence advisor) on 30 June 2021. I would not have seen any document written or circulated after that date.”
David Morrison, who was then already the foreign affairs and defence adviser to the Prime Minister, became acting national security adviser later that summer and was replaced by Ms. Thomas in January, 2022.
Yet another individual, Mike MacDonald, acted for Mr. Morrison between July 16 and Aug. 3 that summer, according to Privy Council Office spokesman Pierre-Alain Bujold. Mr. MacDonald still works in the office of the national security adviser, according to a federal government directory.
The Conservatives served notice Friday they will be proposing to call Ms. Thomas, the national security adviser, as well as three people who also served in the same post in the summer of 2021 to testify before the Commons ethics committee as early as next week.
They are proposing to call Mr. Rigby, Mr. Morrison, now the deputy minster of foreign affairs, as well as Mr. MacDonald.
Separately Friday, Mr. Trudeau said the government is still mulling how to respond to China regarding the targeting of Mr. Chong, after Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Thursday that she is considering expelling diplomats or taking other measures.
“This is a big step, not a small step, to expel diplomats. It’s one that has to be taken with due consideration on all the potential impacts and all the very clear messages that it will send,” Mr. Trudeau said.
CSIS Director David Vigneault told Mr. Chong Tuesday that he and his family were targeted by Beijing after he sponsored a parliamentary motion condemning China’s actions in its northwestern Xinjiang region as genocide.
In an extraordinary meeting brokered by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chong met with Mr. Trudeau, Ms. Thomas and Mr. Vigneault in a West Block office on Parliament Hill. Mr. Trudeau attended for about 10 minutes and left, after which Mr. Vigneault confirmed to Mr. Chong that Zhao Wei, a Chinese diplomat in Canada, was involved in the campaign.
The Globe reported Monday that a July, 2021, intelligence assessment by CSIS found that China’s intelligence service, the Ministry of State Security (MSS), “has taken specific actions to target Canadian MPs” linked to the February, 2021, parliamentary motion condemning Beijing’s oppression of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities.
The CSIS report said an MSS officer sought information on an unnamed Canadian MP’s relatives “who may be located in the [People’s Republic of China], for further potential sanctions.” This effort, the report said, “is almost certainly meant to make an example of this MP and deter others from taking anti-PRC positions.”
A national security source, whom The Globe did not name in the Monday story because they risk prosecution under the Security of Information Act, said the MP in question was Mr. Chong and that Mr. Zhao was working on this matter.
In a statement Thursday, the Chinese embassy in Canada warned against expelling its diplomats, saying the controversy is based on rumours “hyped up by some Canadian politicians” and media.
“Should the Canadian side continue to make provocations,” the statement said, “China will play along every step of the way until the very end.”
The Privy Council Office said Mr. McDonald does not recall seeing any documents about threats to MPs.
”While the NSIA’s office regularly receives intelligence and information from security partners, Mr. MacDonald does not recall having seen any material regarding threats to MPs during this time,” PCO spokesman Pierre-Alain Bujold said. “As a result, no material describing any such threats was briefed to PMO.”
With a report from Marieke Walsh