Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday China is trying to interfere in Canadian democracy, “including our elections,” but said it remains clear Canadians were the ones who decided the outcome of the two recent federal elections.
Trudeau spoke to reporters Friday after a final public inquiry report into the federal government’s use of emergency powers during the so called “Freedom Convoy” protests in Ottawa last year was released. The report found the government met the “very high threshold” for invoking the act for the first time in Canadian history.
“I have been saying for years, including on the floor of the House of Commons, that China is trying to interfere in our democracy, in the processes in our country, including during our elections,” Trudeau said.
“We are aware of this and I can assure you that our intelligence and security agencies have been working very hard over the past many years to develop more and more tools to counter this, to make sure that our institutions are kept safe. This is not a new phenomenon.”
He added: “All Canadians can have total confidence that the outcomes of the 2019 and 2021 elections were determined by Canadians and Canadians alone at the voting booth.”
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His comments come after the Globe and Mail put out a report Friday saying China deployed a “sophisticated strategy” in the 2021 election to defeat Conservative candidates and attempt to support the federal Liberals towards a minority government, citing national security memos.
The report follows months of exclusive reporting by Global News into allegations of attempted Chinese interference, starting with a Nov. 7, 2022, report that Canadian intelligence officials had warned 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, according to Global News sources.
On Dec. 21, 2022, Global News reported that 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.
And on Feb. 8, 2023, Global News reported that national security officials drafted a warning for 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.
Trudeau has previously said that China was playing “aggressive games” with the democracies of Canada and other Western countries. In his comments on Friday, he appeared to reference a part of the Globe report that said China’s former consul-general in Vancouver boasted in 2021 that she had helped defeat two Conservative MPs.
“The fact that a Chinese diplomat would try to take credit for things that happen is not something that is unseen in diplomatic circles around the world. The fact is, the work that CSIS has done…will always ensure that any risks to our election or to the integrity of those elections get highlighted to Canadians,” Trudeau said Friday.
The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa has previously said China has always adhered to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
Under a federal protocol, there would be a public announcement if a panel of senior bureaucrats determined that an incident — or an accumulation of incidents — threatened Canada’s ability to have a free and fair election.
There was no such announcement in 2021 or concerning the 2019 election. In both ballots, the Liberals were returned to government with minority mandates while the Conservatives formed the official Opposition.
On the topic of Chinese interference in Canada’s democracy, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said Friday: “It’s clear that Justin Trudeau has been covering up the interference of the authoritarian regime in Beijing.”
“He claims he never knew anything about it, but is it really believable? Is it really believable that CSIS would write an entire report and share it with foreign governments without actually telling our own prime minister,” Poilievre said.
“Justin Trudeau knew about this interference, and he covered it up because he benefited from it.”
As a solution, Poilievre said he would like to see a public registry of foreign actors created.
“We need a public registry of all those who do paid work on behalf of foreign authoritarian regimes to influence or manipulate our politics or government,” he said.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said late last year the Liberal government is preparing to consult the public on the possible creation of a foreign agent registry as a means of preventing outside interference in Canadian affairs.
— with files from The Canadian Press