Federal inquiry’s report expected to address key foreign interference questions

Click to play video: 'Foreign election interference: CSIS director says he warned about threat multiple times'
Foreign election interference: CSIS director says he warned about threat multiple times
WATCH: The head of Canada's spy agency, Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), appeared for a second time at the inquiry into foreign interference. David Vigneault was not initially scheduled as the last witness, who was supposed to be Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But the "top spy" was called back after the Prime Minister's closest advisers said CSIS did not relay key information related to Chinese interference in the last two federal elections. Touria Izri reports. – Apr 12, 2024

The federal inquiry into allegations of foreign interference is expected to provide a fresh perspective on lingering questions about foreign interference in recent Canadian elections.

Justice Marie-Josée Hogue’s preliminary report, scheduled to be released around noon today,  will examine allegations in the news, testimony from senior public officials and politicians, as well as reams of previously classified memos and intelligence assessments.

Global News revisited some of the key allegations about foreign interference that emerged through leaked documents from national security sources, starting with Global News in November 2022 and later in the Globe and Mail.

In contrast, we look at what government officials said about those allegations and how testimony during Justice Hogue’s hearings last month align with David Johnston’s 2023 report into foreign interference.

Allegation: The People’s Republic of China (PRC) planned to give $250,000 to 11 political candidates for the 2019 election through intermediaries, including an Ontario MPP

What was reported: “CSIS reported that China’s Toronto consulate directed a large clandestine transfer of funds to a network of at least 11 federal election candidates and numerous Beijing operatives who worked as their campaign staffers. The funds were allegedly transferred through an Ontario provincial MPP and a federal election candidate staffer. Separate sources aware of the situation said a CCP proxy group, acting as an intermediary, transferred around $250,000.” (Global News, Nov. 7, 2022)

 What the government said: “The news stories that you have read about interference are just that, news stories. We have not seen…. I’ll just say it. We have not seen money going to 11 candidates, period.” (Jody Thomas, National Security and Intelligence Advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Dec. 8, 2022)

What the Johnston Report said: “It appears from limited intelligence that the PRC intended for funds to be sent to seven Liberal and four Conservative federal candidates through a community organization, political staff and (possibly unwittingly) a Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario MPP.

There is uncertainty about whether there was money, if it actually went to staff or the provincial MPP, and there is no intelligence suggesting any federal candidates received these funds.”

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What the Hogue inquiry heard: CSIS Director David Vigneault told the inquiry that his agency had intelligence that the government of China attempted to funnel approximately $250,000 through a network of “threat actors,” potentially for foreign interference operations. CSIS believed the money to have been transferred through an “an influential community leader, to the staff member of a 2019 federal election candidate and then to an Ontario MPP.” There was no hard evidence that the money actually changed hands, however.

CSIS also characterized some of their intelligence as “incomplete” and the allegations as “unproven.”

What the Hogue report said: “There likely were at least two transfers of funds approximating $250,000 from PRC officials in Canada, possibly for foreign interference-related purposes. However, there is no intelligence that the $250K went to any of the 11 candidates. These were transferred via multiple individuals to obfuscate their origins: via an influential community leader, to the staff member of a 2019 Federal Election candidate, and then to an Ontario MPP.”

Allegation: National security officials warned Trudeau more than a year before the 2019 election that Chinese agents were “assisting Canadian candidates running for political offices”

What was reported: “National security officials drafted a warning for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his office more than a year before the 2019 federal election, alleging that Chinese agents were “assisting Canadian candidates running for political offices,” according to a Privy Council Office document reviewed by Global News.” (Global News, Feb. 8, 2023)

What the government said: “There are foreign state actors who are interested in playing a role in our democracies or in disrupting our democracies … So from the very beginning (in 2015 or 2016), we knew there were things that we needed to know about, and we got briefings on that. And this 2017 memo is certainly a continuation of that level of awareness.” (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, April 10, 2024)

What the Johnston report said: “There was a memorandum provided to the Prime Minister,  but it does not contain the quotation above. An early draft of the memorandum contained similar but not identical language to that quotation. The draft was significantly revised before the memorandum went to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister was briefed on numerous occasions, including June 2017, about the foreign interference threat in a general way.”

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What the Hogue inquiry heard: Multiple witnesses testified that Trudeau, as well as cabinet ministers and senior officials within the government, received multiple briefings over the years about the threat of Chinese intervention in Canadian politics. The partially censored briefing materials published by the inquiry, however, largely stuck to a high-level overview of the issue.

What the Hogue report said: The Hogue report did not address this specific allegation, but provided a detailed timeline going back to 2017, including the measures various national security agencies took to safeguard against foreign interference.

Allegation: The PRC interfered with the nomination of Han Dong as the Liberal Party candidate in Don Valley North and were potentially involved in bussing and coercing international students to vote

What was reported: “CSIS was also allegedly concerned about the Liberal Party’s nomination process. Among other irregularities observed in the September 2019 contest, sources say, was that Chinese international students with fake addresses were allegedly bussed into the riding and coerced to vote in Dong’s favour.” (Global News, Feb. 25, 2023)

What the government said: “I asked for their evidence of the busses, where their people were, their names that they could point us to, to help us evaluate whether or not that, you know, we had inappropriate, you know, people who were not otherwise allowed to vote … It was just that, this allegation exists. It has enough credibility that we’re sharing it with you. But we can’t point to, you know, here’s a voter that voted illegally.” (Jeremy Broadhurst, former Liberal campaign director, April 9, 2024)

What the Johnston report said: “Irregularities were observed with Mr. Dong’s nomination in 2019, and there is well-grounded suspicion that the irregularities were tied to the PRC Consulate in Toronto, with whom Mr. Dong maintains relationships … The Prime Minister was briefed about these irregularities, although no specific recommendation was provided. He concluded there was no basis to displace Mr. Dong as the candidate for Don Valley North.”

Johnston said he did not find evidence that “Mr. Dong was aware of the irregularities or the PRC Consulate’s potential involvement in his nomination.”

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What the Hogue inquiry heard: Dong denied any knowledge of the alleged irregularities, and said that if he was made aware of international students improperly voting in his nomination he would have put a stop to it.

“I didn’t pay attention to busing international students because … I didn’t understand it as an irregularity,” he said.

Dong’s campaign manager, Ted Lojko, testified that he didn’t know anything about the busload of students.

What the Hogue report said: “Available intelligence respecting the 2019 Liberal nomination contest DVN reflects a well-grounded suspicion that the busing of international students was tied to the PRC. Given that DVN was considered a ‘safe’ Liberal seat, this would likely not have impacted which party won the seat. It could, however, have impacted who was elected to Parliament. This is significant.”

Allegation: There was an “orchestrated machine to ensure a minority Liberal government was returned” and Beijing was “determined” the Conservatives not win the 2021 election

What was reported: “China employed a sophisticated strategy to disrupt Canada’s democracy in the 2021 federal election campaign as Chinese diplomats and their proxies backed the re-election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals – but only to another minority government – and worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered to be unfriendly to Beijing.” (Globe and Mail, Feb. 17, 2023)

What the government said: “Both the 2019 and the 2021 elections happened in a context of significant tensions between our government and the government of the People’s Republic of China, particularly over the illegal and arbitrary detention of two Canadian citizens, the two Michaels … I can certainly say that while individual officials may well have expressed one preference or another, the impression we got and consistently would get is that the actual People’s Republic of China would have no, it would just seem very improbably that the Chinese government itself would have a preference in the election.” (Justin Trudeau, April 10, 2024)

What the Johnston report said: “There was an unconfirmed indication that a very small number of PRC diplomats expressed a preference for the LPC to the CPC in the 2021 Election. Other members of diplomatic staff have had a variety of opinions and preferences over different periods of time and in different elections. But there was no indication that the PRC had a plan to orchestrate a Liberal minority government in 2021 or were ‘determined’ that the Conservatives not win.”

What the Hogue inquiry heard: There was ample testimony – as well as CSIS intelligence summaries – suggesting that the Chinese government was displeased both with the Conservative’s hardline approach to Beijing and former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu’s private member’s bill to establish a foreign agent registry. There was no conclusive evidence, however, that Beijing worked to stymie Conservative chances and preferred a Liberal government.

What the Hogue report said: “In its After Action Report dated 17 December 2021, the (Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections task force) confirmed it had no clear evidence that the online activity was a PRC-directed campaign. However, the SITE TF also stated it observed ‘indicators of potential coordination between various Canada-based Chinese-language news outlets as well as PRC and CCP news outlets’ … In a note prepared for a briefing to the Prime Minister’s Office in February 2023, CSIS opined that PRC foreign interference activities in 2021 were ‘almost certainly’ motivated by a perception that the CPC was promoting an anti-PRC platform.”

Allegation: Han Dong advised the PRC Consulate in Toronto to delay the detention of the “Two Michaels”

What was reported: “Liberal MP Han Dong, who is at the centre of Chinese influence allegations, privately advised a senior Chinese diplomat in February 2021 that Beijing should hold off freeing Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, according to two separate national security sources. Both sources said Dong allegedly suggested to Han Tao, China’s consul general in Toronto, that if Beijing released the “Two Michaels,” whom China accused of espionage, the Opposition Conservatives would benefit.” (Global News, March 22, 2023)

What the government said: “We know that the media reports and the allegations made in rather a spectacular fashion about Mr. Dong were false in regards to what he said or didn’t say about the two Michaels.” (Justin Trudeau, April 10, 2024)

Citing an unnamed government source, the Globe and Mail reported on March 23, 2023 that a transcript of Dong’s conversation with the Chinese diplomat provided no “actionable evidence,” and that “conclusions could not be drawn that Mr. Dong asked Beijing to keep two Canadians in prison for political reasons.”

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What the Johnston report said: “The allegation is false. Mr. Dong discussed the “two Michaels” with a PRC official, but did not suggest to the official that the PRC extend their detention. The allegation that he did make that suggestion has had a very adverse effect on Mr. Dong. He continued to maintain close relationships with PRC consular officials at least through the 2021 Election.”

What the Hogue inquiry heard: When asked about the call, Dong testified he did not “recall that conversation.” He added that the discussion was “mostly Mandarin” and that “whenever I talked about the ‘Two Michaels’ … [I] always advocated for their early release” along with “improving their conditions.” He also testified that he was confused by information in the report and “didn’t quite get the logic.”

A CSIS summary of the conversation, published by the inquiry, suggested Dong speculated to the diplomat that it the Chinese government freed the Canadians right away it would bolster the “hardline” approach to Canada-China relations, whereas more “transparency” around their detention would placate public opinion and give the Liberal government “talking points.”

What the Hogue report said: Justice Hogue’s report did not address the conversation between Han Dong and Han Tao.

Allegation: Han Dong was one of 11 Toronto-area candidates allegedly supported by Beijing in the 2019 election, and national security sources believe he was a “witting affiliate” in Chinese foreign interference networks

What was reported: “According to sources, the candidate in question was Han Dong, then a former Ontario MPP whom the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had started tracking in June of that year. National security officials also allege that Dong, now a sitting MP re-elected in 2021, is one of at least 11 Toronto-area riding candidates allegedly supported by Beijing in the 2019 contest. Sources say the service also believes Dong is a witting affiliate in China’s election interference networks.” Dong has denied the allegations. (Global News, Feb. 25, 2023)

What the government said: “I also asked whether or not CSIS had information that Han Dong knew about this, whether he was witting and aware that China had mobilized or Chinese officials had mobilized buses for him or not. And the answers were not clear from CSIS at that point, according to what Mr. Broadhurst told me.” (Justin Trudeau, April 10, 2024)

What the Johnston report said: “Most acknowledged that they were aware of the PRC foreign interference threat in general, and that leveraging proxy agents was a method that the PRC and other foreign adversaries used for this purpose. My conclusion is that there was no evidence presented to any Minister or the Prime Minister that any of the 11 candidates or any group of candidates were working together as part of a network.”

What the Hogue report said: Justice Hogue’s report did not address the question of whether Han Dong was one of 11 Toronto-area candidates allegedly supported by Beijing, or whether he was a “witting affiliate.”

The report did confirm there was intelligence reporting that 11 candidates, seven Liberals and four Conservatives, who had “direct contact” with known or suspected affiliates of the PRC. Hogue did not name any specific ridings or the names of the candidates. Some of those candidates “appeared willing” to cooperate in foreign interference schemes, the report said.


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