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Secret 2020 Privy Council Office memo found ‘active foreign interference network’ in 2019 election

Click to play video: 'New documents reveal key information of alleged Chinese election interference in Canada’s 2019 election'
New documents reveal key information of alleged Chinese election interference in Canada’s 2019 election
WATCH: New details have emerged about China's alleged interference in Canada's 2019 federal election, which were presented to a parliamentary committee in Ottawa on Tuesday. Mackenzie Gray reports – Dec 13, 2022

A February 2020 Privy Council Office national security memo documented China’s alleged “subtle but effective foreign interference networks” that targeted the 2019 federal contest, said MP Michael Cooper.

In the Procedure and House Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday, the Conservative member from Edmonton quoted from a redacted document, saying: “Investigations into activities linked to the Canadian federal election in 2019, reveal an active foreign interference network,” and added that it referenced the Chinese Communist Party.

The PCO regularly briefs the Prime Minister’s Office and appropriate cabinet ministers on national security intelligence. The redacted document was provided to the committee, which is mandated to investigate federal documents regarding allegations of People’s Republic of China (PRC) foreign interference. Global News has reviewed the document.

While Cooper did not cite the document’s source, intelligence sources say it comes from the Privy Council Office’s Intelligence Assessment Secretariat. Cooper said the redacted “Daily Foreign Intelligence Brief” was published on Feb. 21, 2020.

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The multi-partisan group of MPs began hearings in November in response to revelations in Global News reports that outlined Canadian intelligence probes into what sources called China’s vast campaign of interference targeting Canadian elections and politicians, as well as Beijing’s alleged covert “Fox Hunt” police operations in Canada that are targeting Chinese-Canadian communities.

These CSIS investigations were summarized in memos and briefs that started in January 2022, Global reported last month, and intelligence sources said they contained an allegation that China’s Toronto consulate covertly funded an interference network that included political staffers and at least 11 election candidates.

Those sources also said that this information was provided to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several ministers.

Beijing has denied the allegations.

Privy Council Office, Feb. 21, 2020 Intelligence Assessment Secretariat document. PROC, Obtained by Global News
Click to play video: 'China responds to Trudeau, Global News investigation, says it has no interest in ‘Canada’s internal affairs’'
China responds to Trudeau, Global News investigation, says it has no interest in ‘Canada’s internal affairs’

Separate Global News intelligence sources with awareness of the Privy Council Office report say that the document also refers to at least 11  election candidates in the Greater Toronto Area alone, targeted by the PRC in the 2019 contest, part of a loosely organized network that involves community leaders, political staff and some politicians who take “broad guidance,” from China’s consulate in Toronto, according to the February 2020 PCO memo.

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Intelligence sources also told Global News that the Consulate made a clandestine transfer of around $250,000 to the Toronto-based network, a detail that the prime minister was not briefed on. Contrary to what members in Parliament and elsewhere have said, no names of network members were included in the memos and briefs, and there is no evidence showing that China directly earmarked money for the 2019 federal contest.

Sources with knowledge of the redacted February 2020 Privy Council Office memo say it determined that some of “at least 11 candidates in the 2019 election” are likely unaware of China’s influence efforts, but some have knowingly cooperated with the clandestine interference schemes, according to the document.

Cooper asked Liberal Dominic LeBlanc, the minister of intergovernmental affairs, if he had been briefed on China’s alleged election interference in the 2019 election.

LeBlanc said he has been briefed generally on foreign interference, but citing security reasons, he said he could not disclose whether he has been informed of “specific cases.”

“I don’t have this supposed list of 11 candidates. In my discussions with security officials, they did not provide these names,” he said.

Cooper added the Procedure and House Affairs Committee is aware of CSIS investigations that say China has targeted politicians and riding associations as part of its election-interference campaigns. Cooper did not cite dates or more specific information on the CSIS investigations.

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In response to a question from B.C. NDP MP Rachel Blaney, who asked why Canadians have not been informed of the names of 11 candidates allegedly targeted by China, Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly reiterated that both she and Trudeau were not provided specific information in 2022 on China’s alleged election interference, including the names of 11 candidates targeted by China, or whether China had directly funded candidates in the 2019 contest.

“Reports of Chinese election interference in 2019 are very troubling and we take (the reports) seriously,” Joly said. “We must ensure there is no interference, and we are taking a whole of government approach,” to combat disinformation and interference from nations including China and Russia.

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