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Some Canadian politicians are ‘wittingly’ participating in foreign interference: watchdog

Click to play video: 'NSICOP: MP ‘wittingly’ gave secrets to a foreign state'
NSICOP: MP ‘wittingly’ gave secrets to a foreign state
The National Security Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) has conducted its review over alleged foreign interference in Canada's 2019 and 2021 federal elections. As David Akin explains, NSICOP's findings include allegations of an unnamed MP who "wittingly provided information" to a foreign state – Jun 3, 2024

An unknown number of federal politicians are knowingly working with hostile countries to interfere in Canada’s democracy, according to a national security committee of parliament.

The startling revelation came from the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians’ (NSICOP) latest report into foreign meddling in Canada’s democratic institutions, including by countries like China, India and Iran.

It also found that the People’s Republic of China “successfully” interfered in the 2019 Liberal nomination contest in Don Valley North, which had a “significant impact” on Han Dong being selected as the party’s candidate.

The committee reviewed top-secret intelligence reports that suggested sitting parliamentarians are “witting or semi-witting” participants in foreign interference operations, including divulging secrets to foreign governments.

“Some (of the activities) may be illegal, but are unlikely to lead to criminal charges, owing to Canada’s failure to address the long-standing issue of protecting classified information and methods in judicial processes,” the report read.

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“Regardless, all the behaviours are deeply unethical and, the committee would submit, contrary to the oaths and affirmations Parliamentarians take to conduct themselves in the best interests of Canada.”

Click to play video: 'Foreign interference: Freeland mum on why politicians not named in NSICOP report'
Foreign interference: Freeland mum on why politicians not named in NSICOP report

The committee pointed to several activities the undisclosed number of parliamentarians are allegedly engaged in, including soliciting political support from foreign missions, accepting money or favours from diplomats and revealing their colleagues’ positions on issues so that foreign operatives can pressure them.

In one case, a parliamentarian allegedly provided confidential government information to “a known intelligence officer of a foreign state.”

It’s not clear if the parliamentarians are MPs, senators or some combination of both.

Asked why the politicians haven’t faced repercussions for their alleged actions, NSICOP Chair David McGuinty called it a “fantastic question.”

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“We don’t know what is going on inside the RCMP in terms of its work in this regard,” McGuinty said in an interview with Global, suggesting the national police force may be investigating the alleged actions.

“It’s a highly problematic concern that the committee came face to face with. We have put in this review everything that we can from a transparency perspective.”

The 92-page report was drawn from more than 4,000 documents as well as interviews with senior intelligence officials, public servants and cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It was prompted by a series of reports, including by Global News, about the Chinese government’s foreign interference activities in Canada in 2022. The reporting was based on confidential sources as well as reviews of intelligence reports.

That includes Global’s reporting of alleged irregularities around the 2019 Liberal nomination in Don Valley North, which intelligence assessments suggested may have been orchestrated by the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Citing intelligence from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the alleged PRC efforts had a “significant impact” in securing the nomination for Han Dong, the former Liberal MP who is now sitting as an independent.

Dong has denied any knowledge of the alleged irregularities, and is suing Global’s parent company over the reporting.

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“Many of Mr. Dong’s supporters arrived in busses [censored] supported by the PRC: between 175 and 200 international Chinese students arrived in several busses. The (PRC) Consulate reportedly told the students that they must vote for Mr. Dong if they want to maintain their student visas,” the report read.
“CSIS assessed that the PRC’s foreign interference activities played a [censored] significant role in Mr. Dong’s nomination, which he won by a small margin. By successfully interfering in the nomination process of what can be considered a safe riding for the Liberal Party of Canada, the PRC was well-positioned to ensure its preferred candidate was elected to Parliament.”

The report was redacted to remove “injurious or privileged information” related to CSIS’s assessment of “the degree to which an individual was implicated in these activities.”

In his testimony at the Hogue inquiry, Dong 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, too, knew nothing about the busload of students.

While the committee said the leaks of top-secret information to the media was regrettable, they also lit a fire under the government to take foreign interference more seriously.

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“The committee acknowledges an uncomfortable truth. Prior to the leaks, there was little sense of urgency between elected officials and senior decision-makers to address outstanding gaps to this important and well-documented threat to national security,” the report concluded.

“Regrettably, the leaks were the principal catalyst for the government to start considering key legislative reforms and to take meaningful actions against particular states.”

In the wake of the leaks, the government reluctantly agreed to call a full public inquiry into foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 general elections. The inquiry’s preliminary report, released in May, found that party nominations have become a “gateway” for foreign interference operations.

The Liberal government has also introduced new legislation to create a registry of foreign agents actively promoting their countries’ interests in Canada.

But Monday’s report from NSICOP comes more than four years after the committee first raised the alarm about “pervasive” foreign interference operations in Canada. Asked if the government is moving fast enough to address the issue, McGuinty said that some progress has been made.

“Has the government moved quickly enough? Has the government plugged all the holes and made all the improvements that we’ve called for? No, not yet,” McGuinty said.

“They’re working, they’re moving forward.”

The report comes one week after another national security review body found “unacceptable gaps” in intelligence sharing on foreign interference within the federal government.

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The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) reported last week that CSIS and Public Safety Canada did not adequately track who was given access to intelligence reports, and that senior officials briefed on foreign interference operations didn’t always understand the significance of the information.

The NSIRA review also found that disagreements between CSIS and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security adviser – who viewed the operations as “standard diplomatic activity” – meant that Trudeau and senior cabinet ministers did not receive intelligence on the incidents in 2021.

“Commitments to address political foreign interference are straightforward in theory, but will inevitably suffer in practice if rudimentary disagreements as to the nature of the threat persist in the community,” the report stated.

NSIRA also examined the allegations of foreign interference in the 2019 Liberal nomination in Don Valley West. While the agency found that CSIS intelligence on the nomination was shared widely within government – including with Trudeau personally – that information was not always shared in a timely manner.

The CSIS intelligence also did not “sufficiently distinguish” between foreign interference threats and normal tactics in a political contest.

“While this distinction was largely implicit, absent a clear articulation of why CSIS believed that specific activities constituted foreign interference, consumers – particularly those familiar with the tactics of political campaigns – may not have appreciated the intended import of the intelligence provided,” the agency said.

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