The Conservatives are calling on the government to come up with a “robust plan” to counter China’s alleged foreign interference in Canada, following a Global News report that Canadian intelligence officials have warned of covert activity by Beijing during the 2019 election campaign.
Global News reported on Monday that Canadian intelligence officials have warned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that China has allegedly been targeting Canada with a vast campaign of foreign interference, which includes funding a clandestine network of at least 11 federal candidates running in the 2019 election.
“Conservatives are extremely troubled by a recent media report that Canada has been a target of extensive foreign interference by Beijing in the 2019 election,” Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong wrote in a statement on Tuesday.
“It’s long past time for the Trudeau government to come forward with a robust plan to counter Beijing’s foreign interference operations here on Canadian soil.”
Delivered to the prime minister and several cabinet members in a series of briefings and memos first presented in January, the allegations reported on by Global News included other detailed examples of Beijing’s efforts to further its influence and, in turn, subvert Canada’s democratic process, sources said.
Based on recent information from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), those efforts allegedly involve payments through intermediaries to candidates affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), placing agents in the offices of MPs in order to influence policy, seeking to co-opt and corrupt former Canadian officials to gain leverage in Ottawa, and mounting aggressive campaigns to punish Canadian politicians whom the People’s Republic of China (PRC) views as threats to its interests.
CSIS told Global News it could not answer some questions for this story. But the service confirmed it has identified the PRC’s foreign interference in Canada, which can include covert funding to influence election outcomes.
“The Chinese Communist Party … is using all elements of state power to carry out activities that are a direct threat to our national security and sovereignty,” CSIS stated.
The briefings did not identify the 2019 candidates. But the alleged election interference network included members from both the Liberal and Conservative parties, according to sources with knowledge of the briefs.
Global News was not able to confirm from the sources which cabinet ministers may have been privy to the briefs nor the specific timing of the information being reportedly shared.
Chief among the allegations is that 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.
The 2022 briefs said some, but not all, members of the alleged network are witting affiliates of the Chinese Communist Party. The intelligence did not conclude whether CSIS believes the network successfully influenced the October 2019 election results, sources say.
CSIS can capture its findings through warrants that allow electronic interception of communications among Chinese consulate officials and Canadian politicians and staffers.
“It’s clear that Beijing spread disinformation in the 2021 federal election campaign through proxies that negatively affected Conservative campaigns in several ridings,” Chong wrote in his statement.
“It’s also clear in indictments unsealed in U.S. court that Beijing’s agents are operating here on Canadian soil, coercing people to go back to the People’s Republic of China … by threatening their families in the PRC.”
Chong added that the unsealed indictments suggest China’s agents in the U.S. have “pressured U.S. residents to travel to Toronto for more intensive interrogation,” something the Conservative MP said suggests “that the PRC views Canada as a safe haven for more intensive operations.”
“More recently, reports have revealed the presence of three illegal PRC police stations operating in Toronto and surrounding areas,” Chong added.
“We now find out that CSIS has concluded that Beijing corrupted political financing laws and interfered in the 2019 election. But to our knowledge, the government has not expelled anyone for these interference operations in Canada, nor has anyone been criminally charged.”
The biggest victim of these tactics, Chong said, is the Chinese community.
“The Trudeau government must do more to protect the Chinese community from the PRC’s threats, and to protect Canadian democracy,” he said.
Speaking on Monday, Trudeau told reporters that the government has taken “significant measures to strengthen the integrity of our elections processes and our systems.”
“We’ll continue to invest in the fight against election interference, against foreign interference of our democracy and institutions,” Trudeau said.
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing countries, state actors from around the world, whether it’s China or others, are continuing to play aggressive games with our institutions, with our democracies.”
According to Reuters, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday that Canada should stop making remarks that the spokesperson said hurt relations with China.
“The relationship between countries can only be built on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, and China-Canada relations are no exception,” said spokesperson Zhao Lijian.
“China is not interested in Canada’s internal affairs,” Zhao added.
— with files from Global News’ Sam Cooper and Aaron D’Andrea and Reuters