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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters at an event in Toronto on Feb. 24.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Justin Trudeau is ruling out a public inquiry to examine China’s interference in Canada’s democracy and once again insisted that Beijing-directed influence activities did not affect the outcome of the 2019 and 2021 elections.

Speaking to reporters in Toronto marking the first anniversary of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, the Prime Minister said he is satisfied with hearings now being conducted by a parliamentary committee into the past two election campaigns.

“I applaud the work by parliamentary committees to monitor the situation,” Mr. Trudeau said when asked if he would set up a public inquiry as requested by former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley.

Mr. Kingsley this week said an independent inquiry is necessary because the Chinese interference operations outlined in leaked secret and top-secret Canadian Security Intelligence Service reports, which were viewed by The Globe and Mail, threaten to undermine confidence in the electoral system. He said Canadians must be able to “trust that the electoral process is not being tampered with by a foreign government.”

On Friday, the Prime Minister continued to insist that any interference by China did not alter the outcome of the two elections, which returned the Liberals to power in minority Parliaments.

“Canadians can be and should be confident that our institutions, particularly our electoral and democratic processes, have not been compromised, were not compromised in the 2019 and 2021 elections,” he said. But, he added: “It is a very good thing that Canadians are understanding how serious it is that China and other countries are continuing to try to destabilize and influence our democracies and our institutions.”

Campbell Clark: CSIS found specific Chinese interference in Canada’s election. What happened next?

Mr. Trudeau also clarified remarks made Thursday when he suggested that “there are so many inaccuracies in those leaks.” The Prime Minister said he was referring to comments made by his national-security adviser, Jody Thomas, in December in reference to a report by Global News.

On Nov. 7, Global News reported that Mr. Trudeau was told in a January briefing that the Chinese Toronto consulate had directed a clandestine transfer of funds to a network of at least 11 federal candidates running in the 2019 election, as well as many Beijing operatives who worked as their campaign staffers. Global News said $250,000 was allegedly sent through an Ontario MPP and a federal election candidate’s staff member.

Mr. Trudeau has denied being briefed on the matter in January, and Ms. Thomas told a parliamentary committee in December “that we have not seen money going to 11 candidates, period.”

Two sources who spoke to The Globe in December also said they were not aware of that money transfer having occurred. The Globe did not identify the sources because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.

Mr. Trudeau sidestepped questions Friday on whether he would declassify CSIS documents that show the extent of a broad strategy by China to interfere in the two elections.

Highly classified CSIS reports viewed by The Globe 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.

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 outline how Beijing directed Chinese 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.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper, who sits on the Commons committee on procedure and House affairs, which is investigating Chinese interference, said MPs can’t get to the bottom of this without seeing the CSIS documents.

He asserted that Liberal and NDP MPs colluded on Tuesday to deny a Conservative motion to have the independent House of Commons Law Clerk view the documents and redact sensitive information.

“Right now, no documents will be produced to the committee,” he said. “If the committee process is going to work, it is imperative that the government produce the documents and the redactions be independent.”

Since The Globe’s revelations last Friday, Mr. Trudeau’s reactions have shifted. At first, he encouraged CSIS to hunt down the whistleblowers. Then, he said that there was no secret to what China was up to in the past two elections. He also accused the opposition parties of playing partisan politics and helping to undermine Canadians’ faith in the electoral process.

“It is astonishing the Prime Minister would downplay interference by the [Chinese Communist Party] on the basis that it didn’t affect the overall outcome of the elections. The fact is what we have is a sophisticated campaign targeted to help the Liberals win and to defeat certain Conservative candidates and then-sitting members of Parliament who were defeated,” Mr. Cooper said.

CSIS reports in 2021 said the Chinese state is targeting all levels of government from municipal to provincial to federal. They said China is targeting political staffers because “staffers control schedules and often act as gatekeepers” for MPs, “thereby placing them in positions where they can deceptively control and influence the activities of elected officials in ways that support [People’s Republic of China] interests.”

The reports said the Chinese Communist Party, which rules the country as an authoritarian state, “often leverages non-transparent” methods to exert influence in Canada, “at times using clandestine, deceptive and threatening tools.”

A Feb. 18, 2020, CSIS intelligence report assessed that at least 11 candidates in the 2019 election were the target of foreign interference. It said the 11, along with 13 members of their staffs, had direct connections to a “known or suspected malign actor.” The report says these candidates had at least one direct connection to a person of interest in CSIS’s investigation of Chinese foreign interference.

The report said the service’s understanding of China’s foreign-interference network in the GTA is based on more than a decade of observation. It said the network is centred on individuals within the Chinese consulate in Toronto, leaders of local community organizations, staff of targeted candidates and elected officials and political candidates themselves.

CSIS warned that “absent real disincentives,” such as a foreign-agent registry or indictments of foreign-interference actors, China’s “foreign interference targeting Canada is expected to continue and increase over time.”

With a report from Laura Stone in Toronto

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