Speaking in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, airing Sunday, Richard Fadden, the former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and former national security advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said he “can’t see any compelling reason not to” hold a public inquiry.
“I think in this case, the allegations are so serious they need to be looked into,” Fadden told Stephenson.
“I think a public inquiry is really the route to go.”
His comments come after a recent Globe and Mail article 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 followed 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 had allegedly been targeting Canada. The vast campaign of foreign interference allegedly included 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 alleged 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.
Fadden acknowledged that while public inquiries have a history of sometimes going “nowhere,” he said a number of them have been “very, very useful.”
The other “logical” option would be to have Parliament undertake a probe into the issue, the former spy chief said. But the current climate in the House of Commons, Fadden warned, would make that a difficult undertaking.
“It has become so partisan that I think that this particular kind of topic would be almost impossible for them to look at objectively,” he said.
Given that, he said, a public inquiry is the right “route” for the government to take.
“It should be given a limited mandate so that they report … well before the next election. There should be an inquiry under the Inquiries Act so that they can … subpoena people and documents if need be,” Fadden said.
“I can’t see any compelling reason not to do it in the public interest except some partisan considerations.”
Fadden isn’t the only high-profile voice calling for a public inquiry into the issue.
Speaking with The Globe and Mail last week, a former chief electoral officer also called for a public inquiry into China’s attempts to influence Canadian elections.
“The reason why this is important is that the legitimacy of government is what is at stake,” former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley told The Globe and Mail.
“We need to find out what has transpired. I favour an independent inquiry because this is what will satisfy Canadians. It is not a minor issue.”
Canada's election outcome was legitimate -- but individual races?
For Kenny Chiu, the allegations of interference are personal.
Chiu, who is one of the MPs the CCP allegedly targeted, said he believes Chinese agents succeeded in smearing him as a racist in WeChat and Mandarin-language media reports. He subsequently lost his 2021 re-election bid.
As the member from Steveston-Richmond, Chiu had advocated for transparent elections in Hong Kong, voted in favour of declaring China’s actions in Xinjiang a genocide, and tabled his April 2021 bill calling for a foreign influence registry.
“The Chinese interference is a contributing factor to my loss,” Chiu said alongside Fadden on The West Block. “What I’ve experienced here, locally, is that within a very short period of time, less than two years, supporters of mine all of a sudden (became) very angry and emotional to me personally.”
Rumours about him then began to spread on WeChat, a Chinese instant messaging service, according to Chiu.
“It’s all because of information that is being circulated among them in WeChat and also WhatsApp that, you know, somehow convince them that I’m anti-Chinese, that I’m a racist, that I’m anti-China,” he said.
Chiu told Stephenson he believes Beijing was behind the rumours.
“There are sanctioned articles that are being published in WeChat … we know only sanctioned information can be published, publicized in WeChat, and get circulated there,” he said.
Trudeau, meanwhile, said last week that while China has tried to interfere in Canadian democracy, “including our elections,” he said it remains clear Canadians were the ones who decided the outcome of the two recent federal elections.
Fadden spoke about the prime minister’s assessment in the interview.
“To be practical about it, we have to admit that Chinese interference efforts in Canada are targeted. They’re not targeting every constituency in Canada,” he said. “Fundamentally, the overall outcome — as the prime minister says — absolutely legitimate. Individual constituencies? Different issue.”
— with files from Global News’ Sam Cooper and The Canadian Press