Canada: foreign interference 2023

Written by  //  May 15, 2024  //  Canada, Government & Governance  //  No comments

Canada – China 2022/3
The difference between foreign-interference ‘hearings’ and a public inquiry

15 May
New commission sheds light on how diaspora communities are impacted by foreign interference>
By Maria Cheung, Researcher, Social Work, University of Manitoba and Kawser Ahmed, Adjunct Professor at the Political Science department, University of Winnipeg
(The Conversation) In Canada, foreign interference is defined as “harmful activities undertaken by foreign states or their proxies that are clandestine, deceptive, or involve a threat to any person to advance the strategic objectives of those states to the detriment of Canada’s national interests.”
These threats and activities of state or non-state entities foster polarization, distrust and erode faith in democratic systems.
Hogue’s initial report found that foreign interference occurred in both of the last two federal elections — held in 2019 and 2021 — and is expected to continue.
Among the few countries that the commission examined, the People’s Republic of China was found to be “the foremost perpetrator” of foreign interference. Its sophisticated, pervasive and persistent activities target government officials, electoral candidates, political organizations and diaspora communities.
With billions of dollars poured into its global operation, China expends significantly more resources on foreign interference-related activities than any other country.
The commission’s Stage 1 hearings featured a panel of diaspora community representatives who have been affected by foreign interference and transnational repression. Together with witness statements from members of Parliament and an ex-MP who dealt with foreign interference, a diaspora perspective emerged from this initial phase of the commission’s hearings.
In her report, Hogue noted some diaspora communities are disproportionately affected by foreign interference. Targeted by China in its transnational repression efforts, five groups — dubbed the “Five Poisons” by Chinese authorities — particularly bear the brunt: Falun Gong adherents, Uyghurs, Tibetans, supporters of Taiwan and those advocating for democracy in mainland China and Hong Kong.

6 May
Government pitches foreign influence registry, new powers for CSIS in attempt to curb foreign interference
Bill lands just days after inquiry warned foreign interference was undermining public trust in elections
(CBC) The federal government unveiled a long-anticipated bill Monday aimed at curbing foreign interference in Canadian political life — from school boards to the House of Commons.
If passed, the bill would introduce new foreign interference offence, shake up how Canada’s spy agency collects and shares intelligence and launch a long-anticipated foreign influence transparency registry.
Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc tabled Bill C-70 just days after a public inquiry said attempts by other countries to meddle in Canada’s past two federal elections undermined Canadians’ trust in democracy.
The bill would make it an indictable offence under the Security of Information Act — punishable by up to life in prison — for anyone to, at the direction of a foreign entity, engage in “surreptitious or deceptive conduct” to influence a political or governmental process, which includes party nomination contests.
… A core part of the bill would require those acting on behalf of foreign states to influence Canadian politics or government to register with the federal government. Such foreign agent registries are in place in the U.S. and Australia.
Those caught violating the rules of the proposed new foreign influence transparency registry could risk millions of dollars in financial penalties and prison time. Diplomats would be exempt under international law.
Monday’s bill proposes appointing a foreign influence transparency commissioner in charge of overseeing a new registry system.

3 May
Five takeaways from the foreign-interference commission’s report
China is the main perpetrator of foreign interference in Canada that poses a serious and growing threat to the country’s electoral system and the public’s confidence in it, concludes the first report from the inquiry looking into the meddling.
The commission, led by Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue, is assessing interference by China, Russia and other foreign states and non-state actors, including any potential effects on the 2019 and 2021 general elections.
Justice Hogue’s first report looks at the flow of foreign-interference assessments to senior government decision-makers, including elected officials, during the two elections.
At long last, the Hogue inquiry lays the foundation for a real debate about foreign interference
‘The evidence I have heard to date does not demonstrate bad faith on anyone’s part,’ says commissioner
The most grave allegation levelled during the foreign interference saga of the last many months was that the Liberal government willfully turned a blind eye to Chinese state meddling in Canada’s democracy because it benefited the Liberals politically.
Justice Marie-Josée Hogue’s initial report seems to at least cast significant doubt on that claim.
“In my opinion, the evidence I have heard to date does not demonstrate bad faith on anyone’s part, or that information was deliberately and improperly withheld,” Hogue says at page 150.
Hogue repeated her finding about an absence of bad faith in her prepared remarks to reporters on Friday. But in both cases, she attached a caveat. …
Foreign Interference Commission Releases Initial Report
After conducting months of investigation and hearing from more than 60 witnesses during 21 days of hearings, the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions has released its Initial Report, which focuses on foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue found that the Canadian electoral system itself is robust, but she did find evidence of foreign interference.

11 April
What we know from Canada’s foreign interference inquiry so farTranscript

5 April
A look at what happened this week at the foreign interference inquiry
(Globe & Mail) Canada’s inquiry into foreign interference is wrapping up its first week of public hearings, which heard testimonies from Canadian diaspora groups, election officials and politicians targeted by China.
What to expect for the inquiry’s remaining days
The commission is expected to hear testimonies from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his chief of staff, Katie Telford, Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc, Government House Leader Karina Gould and others during its second week. The hearings are expected to close April 10.
The commission is required to deliver a report by May 3.
It will hold a second round of public hearings, with a broader focus on democratic institutions and the experiences of diaspora communities, in the fall. Those hearings will examine proposals to combat foreign interference. A final report on those proposals is due in late December.
India and Pakistan tried to meddle in Canada elections, spy agency says
CSIS intelligence report suggests growing number of countries targeting country’s large diaspora populations
(The Guardian) Canada’s spy agency has declared that the governments of India and Pakistan probably attempted to meddle in its elections.
As a closely watched public inquiry investigates the scope of foreign interference, on Thursday night the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) released a report suggesting a growing number of countries see Canada – and particularly its large diaspora populations – as a target for subterfuge.
It said India had “intent to interfere and likely conducted clandestine activities” in the 2021 Canadian federal election, including the use of a government proxy agent who attempted to provide illegal financial support to pro-Indian candidates, according to reporting from CBC News.
CSIS intel suggests China attempted to funnel $250K, possibly for election interference
(Global news) CSIS director David Vigneault has testified at the foreign interference inquiry that the agency had intelligence before Canada’s 2019 election that China’s government attempted to funnel about $250,000 through a network, possibly to interfere in Canadian elections.

28 March
On foreign interference, Canada has been a sitting duck
Andrew Coyne
The opening day of the second round of public hearings of the Foreign Interference Commission – and the first to get at the meat of the issue – was about as heart-rending as might be imagined.
Foreign interference, as we have been learning, takes many forms: not just the election meddling that was the proximate cause of the inquiry, but propaganda and disinformation, spying and – the subject of Wednesday’s hearing – intimidation.
Representatives of the various diaspora communities most affected – Chinese, Russian, Iranian, Indian – testified of the threats, violence and other coercive tactics to which they have been subjected by agents of their respective countries of origin, including threats against family members still there.
More to the point, they testified of the indifference and inaction that greeted them when they sought the protection of Canadian authorities: the police officers who told them there was nothing they could do, the political parties who refused to take up their cause, the governments that appeared to actively collude in their repression – from the City of Ottawa banning protests outside the Chinese embassy to the federal Immigration department granting residency permits to former high-ranking officials in the Iranian regime. …
Most serious of all are reports that China succeeded in securing nominations for particular candidates, or in planting agents as staffers close to others. India, too, is alleged to have clandestinely provided funding, along with China, to a candidate in the last Conservative leadership race, through the bulk purchase of party memberships.
Canada is hardly alone in being a target of these efforts. Every day seems to turn up another example of Chinese infiltration or Russian disinformation or Indian intimidation campaigns in one Western country or another. The difference would appear to lie in the response. In other countries, arrests have been made, charges have been filed. In other countries, laws have been passed, such as the foreign agent registries that are now established parts of the counter-intelligence efforts of the United States, Australia and (soon) Britain.

25 March
The Foreign Interference Commission aka The Hogue commission is revving up this week. Justice Marie-Josée Hogue’s public inquiry into foreign interference in federal elections will drop a high-profile witness list early this week.
— Hearings start Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.
— The commission expects to hear from 40 people. Hogue wants to give Canadians “a better understanding of the foreign interference threats our electoral system may have faced in the 2019 and 2021 elections, the protective mechanisms that were in place, and the potential impact, if any, on the integrity of the elections.”
The witness list will include “members of diaspora communities, current and former elected officials, political party representatives, Elections Canada and the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, current and former senior government officials, Cabinet ministers and the prime minister.”

22 March
Intelligence watchdog completes report on Chinese interference allegations, sends it to PM
Next week, public inquiry will resume its own investigation into similar allegations
(CBC) Just over a year ago, when the Liberal government was under constant fire over claims that China meddled in the 2019 and 2021 elections, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked the country’s two intelligence review bodies — the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) and the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) — to investigate the issue.
On Friday [22 March], NSICOP announced it had delivered its special report, with unanimous findings and recommendations, to Trudeau, Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Justice Minster Arif Virani and Defence Minister Bill Blair.
As required by NSICOP’s enabling law, it’s now up to the prime minister to consider “whether there is any information in the report, the disclosure of which would be injurious to national security, national defence or international relations, or constitutes solicitor-client information.”
The prime minister must table a declassified version of the report within 30 sitting days of Parliament.

2 February
Are We The World’s Patsy on Spying?
The Bridge with Peter Mansbridge: Some new intelligence on Canada’s vulnerability to foreign interference is worrying to say the least. It suggests that interference by foreigners is deeply embedded in Canadian politics on every level. But the unanswered question is are we any different than most western countries? Chantal Hebert and Bruce Anderson have their say….
Participants tell foreign interference inquiry to keep Canadians in the loop
Government lawyers suggest there are ‘practical limitations’ to releasing information

28-30 January
The first public hearings on foreign interference in Canada have begun. What you need to know
(CTV) After months of behind-the-scenes preparations, including deciding which key players will be able to participate and establishing parameters for the national security and intelligence-centric process, commissioner Marie-Josee Hogue has begun presiding over the first open phase of the national probe.
… After extensive deliberations, parliamentary hearings and a failed special rapporteur process, Minister of Public Safety, Democratic Institutions and Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc announced in September that a Quebec Court of Appeal justice would take on the task of examining the issue.
… While the first phase of Hogue’s work will focus on “the interference that China, Russia and other foreign actors may have engaged in” during the last two elections, it will also dig into the flow of information within the federal government in connection with these alleged instances.
The inquiry also recently announced that it is specifically requesting information and documents from the federal government regarding alleged interference by India in connection to the 2019 and 2021 elections.

4 January
Public hearings in foreign interference inquiry to start later this month
The first set of hearings will start on Jan. 29 in downtown Ottawa. They will run over five days.

2023

14 September
China’s threats as Mr Chong goes to Washington
Evan Solomon
National security threats have a way of uniting politicians from across the aisle and that was on full display this week when the US Congress, investigating Chinese foreign interference, asked a Canadian politician named Michael Chong to testify. Not your average Tuesday on Capitol Hill, but Chong has a compelling story to tell.
In 2021, after he tabled a motion in the Canadian Parliament to declare the Chinese repression of the Uyghur population a genocide, he and his extended family in Hong Kong were actively targeted by agents of the People’s Republic of China. China has denied the allegation, but there is plenty of evidence to support Chong’s claims about Chinese interference. With a US election in just over a year and Russian and Chinese disinformation campaigns ratcheting up, US politicians are looking to learn from his experience to develop their own countermeasures. …
Chong: I delivered two clear messages to US senators and lawmakers. The PRC’s interference is also affecting many Canadians coast to coast whose stories remain untold and they suffer in silence. The message I delivered is that we need to deliver a suite of measures, a range of tools, to help governments combat this menace, including closer cooperation among allied democracies.

12 September
Chong tells U.S. Congress closer co-operation with allies needed to combat foreign interference
(CTV) More co-operation and co-ordination between Canada and the U.S. is needed to combat foreign interference by China, Conservative MP Michael Chong told the United States Congress Tuesday.
Chong was invited to appear before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, as part of its study into “countering China’s global transnational repression campaign,” to share his experience as a target of foreign interference by Beijing.
“Foreign interference threatens our economy, our long term prosperity, social cohesion, our Parliament and our elections,” Chong testified before the United States Congress in Washington, D.C. “It requires a suite of measures to combat, including closer cooperation amongst allied democracies.”
Chong’s testimony comes amid multiple reports in the last several months about the Chinese government allegedly and repeatedly targeting the MP and his family in retaliation for his condemnation of China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims. … Chong — who is also the Conservative foreign affairs critic — told the commission his experience is but one example of Beijing’s interference in Canada, while “many, many other cases go unreported and unnoticed, and the victims suffer in silence.”
During his testimony, he also repeated his desire to see the Canadian government implement a foreign agent registry — similar to those in Australia and the United States — which the Liberal government has said it will explore.

7-8 September
Trudeau says he will testify with ‘enthusiasm’ if called as a witness at foreign interference inquiry
Chinese embassy denies claim it meddles in Canadian affairs
“I think it’s important for Canadians to know exactly everything this government has been doing in regards to foreign interference and to talk frankly about the challenges that we continue to face in our democracies around the world.”
Following a series of media reports, Trudeau’s government has faced sharp criticism over how it handled and responded to intelligence about China’s alleged meddling in the past two federal elections.
While the prime minister and his senior advisers have denied some of the allegations, in May the government did confirm that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had in 2021 detected a plot by China to intimidate Conservative MP Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong. The federal government later expelled Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei in response.

Foreign interference is a serious threat — and it’s finally getting a serious response
Aaron Wherry
The Liberals could have saved the country a lot of time and trouble by calling an inquiry months ago
(CBC) It might seem like ancient history now, but the belated appointment of a Quebec judge on Wednesday to lead a public inquiry into foreign interference is a reminder that — for a few feverish months this spring — the question of possible tampering in the Canadian democratic process was all anyone in Ottawa wanted to talk about.
It’s also a reminder that almost no one covered themselves in glory during those months.
Hogue’s appointment comes nearly three months after David Johnston — the former governor general chosen by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March to look into the questions raised by a series of intelligence leaks — decided he’d had enough.
It was Johnston’s considered view that Parliament was — or should be — mature and serious enough to tackle the deeply important questions raised by this furor — questions that go to the very heart of this country’s democracy and institutions. Parliament disagreed, very loudly.

Justice Marie-Josée Hogue ‘honoured’ to lead foreign interference inquiry, hearing start to be determined
Inquiry will look at claims that China, Russia and other states meddled in Canadian elections
(CBC) The federal government has chosen Justice Marie-Josée Hogue to lead a highly anticipated public inquiry into foreign interference Thursday, although the details — like when the hearings will start and how much of Hogue’s work will be made public — haven’t been settled.
Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc formally announced Thursday morning that the Quebec Court of Appeal judge will preside over an independent inquiry investigating interference by China, Russia, other foreign states and non-state actors in the 2019 and 2021 elections. She is also tasked with looking at how intelligence flowed to decision-makers in the context of the past two elections.
… Thursday’s announcement follows a series of media stories reports accusing China of interfering in the 2019 and 2021 elections. The Liberals have faced a barrage of questions about what they knew about the attempts and how government institutions handled intelligence.

22 August
Harnessing a Middle-Power, Non-Zero-Sum Approach to China and the Indo-Pacific
Stephen Nagy, Senior Associate Professor, Department of Politics and International Studies, International Christian University, Tokyo
Conference of Defence Associations: Is it realistic to expect that cooperative and mutually beneficial economic relationships can be maintained with China while also addressing concerns about political interference and coercive diplomacy?
Stephen Nagy: There’s room for a public discussion about political interference in Canada, but it has to be done in a disciplined and open manner. At the same time, I think that as we try to address the issues of political interference, we don’t want to reveal all our cards about how we detected political interference, otherwise the Chinese will know how we figured out how they did it, and then they might change the tactics, and do it in a different way. As we think about, first, addressing these issues, I think there’s a place for public discussion. But there’s a place also for dealing with this behind closed doors so that we can continue to have effective policies to identify these issues.
We need to be mature in our approach and understand that a bilateral relationship of this magnitude has many dimensions and that if we only focus on one dimension, political interference, we’re going to lose salience in the other dimensions of the relationship. That means that we find ways to isolate different aspects of the relationship so that they don’t overlap with others. And this is extremely difficult, but I think that it’s something that we continue to need to focus on. Again, I think that a good way to do this is to work in multilateral partnerships to demonstrate to China that these kinds of tactics will have consequences on China, whether they’re economic or political, and try to discourage or de-incentivize using these tactics to shape our political system. There’s no easy solution. But it’s critical that we continue to try and find ways to deal with this.

26 June
David Johnston files his final report on foreign interference, but it won’t be made public
Johnston’s initial report in May concluded that a public inquiry would not be a constructive way forward — angering opposition parties
(Canadian Press) David Johnston filed his final — and confidential — report on foreign interference to the prime minister on Monday, ending his contentious term as special rapporteur.
Johnston had announced his plans to resign earlier this month, saying the atmosphere around his work had become too partisan. He pledged to submit a final report to the government before the end of June.
Trudeau named Johnston as special rapporteur on foreign interference in March, and tasked him with setting a path forward for the government in tackling the issue.
At the time, pressure was mounting on the Liberal government to take action following multiple media reports, citing unnamed national security sources, that accused China of meddling in the last two federal elections.

13 June
RCMP confirms probe into Chong threats as ex-adviser to PM offers new details on memo
RCMP commissioner Mike Duheme confirmed Tuesday that police have opened a criminal investigation into allegations that Conservative MP Michael Chong was targeted by Beijing.
He said the RCMP is also working with elections officials to probe alleged foreign interference against two other members of Parliament — Conservative MP Erin O’Toole and NDP MP Jenny Kwan — but wouldn’t confirm whether police are pursuing criminal charges in either case.
“Any matters that can be charged, any person that can be charged with the Criminal Code, we will do so,” he told reporters after having appeared before a House of Commons committee studying foreign interference.
Duheme said more than 100 investigations into foreign interference writ large are underway in Canada, adding that police stations allegedly operated by Beijing have been closed amid ongoing investigations.

2 June
David Johnston’s position is barely tenable. Can his investigation be salvaged?
Aaron Wherry
David Johnston can be both a flawed choice to investigate the government’s response to intelligence on foreign interference — and the target of unfair treatment since taking on that task. The prime minister could have been better off asking someone else to be special rapporteur — and Johnston’s reception from his critics may have diminished the number of people willing and able to do the job.
Now that most members of the House of Commons have called on Johnston to resign, his position is barely tenable. But he is apparently determined to finish the job. And the process he initiated may still be salvageable.

31 May
David Johnston plans to stay on as special rapporteur after Commons votes for him to step aside
(CBC) After members of Parliament voted in favour of his ouster Wednesday, David Johnston said his mandate to probe allegations of foreign interference comes from the government — not from the House of Commons.
The former governor general released a statement following the vote on a motion brought forward by the NDP, which the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois supported while the Liberals stood opposed. It passed 174 to 150.

29 May
NDP calls on Johnston to step down as special rapporteur on foreign interference
The NDP is introducing an opposition day motion calling on David Johnston to step down as the government’s special rapporteur on foreign interference — only days after one of its MPs was told by CSIS she has been targeted by the Chinese government.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that while he has been careful not to attack the former governor general or his reputation, Johnston’s background has led to doubts about his work as the special rapporteur.
Pierre Poilievre is right about one thing: Special rapporteur is a fake job
Lori Turnbull, Director of the School of Public Administration and associate professor at Dalhousie University,
(Globe & Mail) The decision as to whether to hold a public inquiry on any topic, including the very important issue of foreign interference in Canada’s democracy, belongs to the prime minister. It cannot be transferred to an unelected, unaccountable appointee, regardless of that person’s credentials or experience. The ongoing noise about The Right Honourable David Johnston’s appointment to this position is an unfortunate distraction of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s making.
The public inquiry ought to be run by a truly independent person with expertise on the issues of national security and intelligence. Mr. Johnston’s appointment as special rapporteur shows deeply flawed judgment, both on the part of the Prime Minister for making it, and on the part of Mr. Johnston for taking it.

23-24 May
Sean Speer: The unavoidable implication of the Johnston report: Canada is broken
Johnston’s conclusion—that this government is not corrupt, just plain incompetent—is little comfort for our country
(The Hub) In broad terms, there were two possible outcomes from David Johnston’s investigation into the Chinese interference scandal.
The first was evidence of political corruption. He could have found that the government’s failure to respond to the growing body of intelligence on Chinese interference in Canadian democracy was due to purposeful neglect on the part of the prime minister, his Cabinet, and their staff because those efforts aided the Liberal Party’s partisan interests.
The second was evidence of basic state failure—that is to say, the billions of dollars that we spend on intelligence gathering, analysis, and policy adoption were effectively wasted because of a lack of clarity around information sharing, the persistence of institutional siloes, and disinterest on the part of the political arm of the government.
Johnston’s report points in the second direction. He says that he found no specific evidence of gross political negligence. Instead, the main issue was that the intelligence that was collected and analyzed never seemed to make it to political actors. In the case of the intelligence on the targeting of MP Michael Chong, for instance, we’re told that while it was sent to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and his chief of staff, it was sent through a top-secret email system for which they seemingly lacked log-in details.
Matt Gurney: The Johnston report is one of the most depressing things I’ve ever read
Most of the commentary over the special rapporteur’s report is going to miss the plain, simple truth he reveals: we are just totally, epically boned
On this and other matters, what the Liberals have offered as their defences are actually just different kinds of confessions. “We’re too incompetent to be malicious” is about where their own version of events is landing, and the hell of it is, it may well be true.

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