Exclusive: 2020 intel warned Trudeau government that China’s interference in Canadian elections will likely be ‘pervasive’

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2020 intel warned Trudeau government that China’s interference in Canadian elections will likely be ‘pervasive’

An unredacted 2020 national security document alleges that Beijing used an extensive network of community groups to conceal the flow of funds between Chinese officials and Canadian members of an election interference network, all in an effort to advance its own political agenda in the 2019 federal contest.

The Privy Council Office document, which Global News has reviewed, is a distillation of sensitive investigations and was published in February 2020, around four months after the 2019 election. It warned that influence operations such as these were “likely to be more persistent and pervasive in future elections.”

According to the document, community leaders and “co-opted” political staffers “under broad guidance” from the Toronto consulate serve as intermediaries between Chinese officials and the politicians Beijing was seeking to influence.

The outcome of these operations, the document says, is that “staff of targeted politicians provide advice on China-related issues” to the Chinese consulate.

Other network operators handle financing and attempt to recruit Canadian politicians, the document said.

“Community leaders facilitate the clandestine transfer of funds and recruit potential targets,” the 2020 PCO memo states.

A heavily redacted version of the document was filed last week in a Parliamentary committee hearing: It revealed the sole observation that China’s 2019 election interference networks were “subtle but effective.”

The PCO regularly briefs the Prime Minister’s Office and appropriate cabinet ministers on national security intelligence.


Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, who was public safety minister at the time, acknowledged receiving “certain information” from the 2020 memo last week but declined to elaborate.

“I’m not able to share the details of that,” said Blair, the only minister to acknowledge it.

Details from the 2020 PCO brief raise questions about what steps in almost three years the Liberal government might have taken to address the alleged interference campaign and the indirect cash flows that intelligence sources say supported it.

Ottawa has insisted that the Chinese government interference campaign did not affect the overall integrity of the 2019 election.

One suggestion to counter interference is a foreign-agent registry, which countries such as Australia and the United States employ to monitor actors working on the behalf of the interests of foreign states.

A registry would provide the legal means to prosecute the agents who circumvent the law, experts have told Global News. Following Global News’ reports, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendocino announced Ottawa will consult the public about similar legislation.

In response to detailed questions about information in the February 2020 PCO document, the Liberal government provided a response from Dominic Leblanc, minister of intergovernmental affairs. The response did not address the PCO document’s allegations of Chinese election interference in 2019, but said the government is “strengthening the security of the election process and the parties who participate in it.”

Other measures in the government’s 2022 budget included committing “a further $10-million towards combatting disinformation and protecting democracy,” Leblanc’s spokesman stated.

Last month, Global News revealed that almost two years later, Justin Trudeau and select ministers were warned of a vast network of election interference guided by China’s consulate in Toronto, according to sources. Intelligence sources told Global that the network involved 11 or more federal candidates, elected and unelected public officials, and an Ontario MPP.

Separate sources told Global that as part of its influence campaign in 2019, the consulate allegedly transferred around $250,000 to a regime-friendly group to act as a proxy, which in turn disbursed that amount to network members. This information was not included in the briefing that sources say was provided to the prime minister or his ministers.

In response to repeated questions about his awareness of the 2022 briefing, the prime minister has only stated that he was not briefed on federal candidates receiving money from China. He has not specifically addressed the allegations about the network.

In contrast to the timing of the 2022 series of memos and briefs, the February 2020 PCO document arrived at an especially fraught moment in Sino-Canadian relations: Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were still imprisoned as Beijing sought leverage for the release of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who faced extradition to the United States.

Entitled “PRC Foreign Interference: 2019 Elections,” the document provides a rare view into Canadian intelligence’s understanding of the complex, obscure mechanisms underlying China’s efforts to support Beijing’s chosen Canadian election candidates.

Privy Council Office, Feb. 21, 2020 Intelligence Assessment Secretariat document, provided to PROC. PROC, Obtained by Global News

It alleges that Chinese consulate officials “targeted” at least 11 candidates in the Greater Toronto Area in the October 2019 contest — and that Beijing’s objective was to “influence government officials into taking specific stances on China’s issues of interest.”

It also describes “an active foreign interference network in the Greater Toronto Area” that involved “the Chinese consulate, local community leaders, Canadian politicians, and their staff.”

Furthermore, the document assessed that Beijing’s “foreign interference networks in the Greater Toronto Area implicate at least 11 candidates in the 2019 election.”

“Some are likely unaware of these influence efforts while others have willingly cooperated,” the document concluded.

According to the document, Beijing’s international influence network — the United Front Work Department (UFWD) — facilitated the 2019 election interference.

The UFWD mobilizes large sections of China’s diaspora to fulfill Chinese Communist Party objectives, according to Canadian intelligence reports reviewed by Global News.

China denies it interferes in other nations with its United Front networks. But Canadian intelligence asserts the United Front’s operations can include politicians, media, business, student and community groups; they are aimed at consolidating support for CCP policy as well as targeting critics and the causes of ethnic groups seen as “poisons” by the CCP, such as Uyghurs and Tibetans.


“Besides funding, the UFWD is also likely to offer candidates logistical support, favourable media coverage, and endorsements,” the 2020 document says.

“The UFWD’s extensive network of quasi-official and local community and interest groups, allow it to obfuscate communication and the flow of funds between Canadian targets and Chinese officials.”

This assessment added that “under President Xi Jinping, the UFWD has seen an expansion in resources and improved coordination.”

Therefore, in February 2020, in an intelligence assessment published for senior Canadian officials, the PCO predicted China’s “foreign interference efforts are likely to be more persistent and pervasive in future elections.”