Security officials don’t dictate ‘who can or cannot run’: PM Trudeau on alleged CSIS brief

Click to play video: 'Trudeau stands by Ontario MP amid interference allegations'
Trudeau stands by Ontario MP amid interference allegations
WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is standing by Liberal MP Han Dong, who sources have told Global News is a witting affiliate in a Chinese government interference network. Dong rejects the allegations, calling them inaccurate and irresponsible. Mercedes Stephenson reports on what Trudeau had to say about the claims, as calls grow for a public inquiry into accusations of foreign meddling – Feb 27, 2023

Responding to questions Monday about a Global News report on an allegedly unusual CSIS warning about a Liberal nominee before the 2019 election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau starkly laid out boundaries for intelligence agencies in Canada.

“Let me also be very clear to a really important point that I think some folks are choosing to overlook in a free democracy,” Trudeau said. “It is not up to unelected security officials to dictate to political parties who can or cannot run. That’s a really important principle.”

Current and former Canadian intelligence officials would agree.

CSIS cannot instruct Canadian political parties to take any course of action, but it can offer advice on whether party members are believed to be involved in foreign interference that could threaten Canada’s security, one national security source not authorized to speak publicly said Monday.

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The source added that it is up to the political parties whether to heed advice or not.

Trudeau was responding to a Global News investigative report that cited information from intelligence officials who allegedly provided Trudeau’s party with an urgent, classified briefing in late September 2019 regarding Toronto-area Liberal candidate, Han Dong.

Click to play video: 'Liberal MP allegedly tied to Chinese interference: sources'
Liberal MP allegedly tied to Chinese interference: sources

The sources said that over the summer, CSIS had been tracking Dong — a former Ontario Liberal MPP — because they were concerned he had replaced Don Valley North Liberal incumbent Geng Tan under what they thought were suspicious circumstances.

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They were concerned that Dong was believed to be the favoured candidate of officials in the Toronto Chinese consulate, according to an official with direct awareness of the alleged threat brief about Dong.

Responding to questions from Global News for the story, Dong has denied the allegations and on Monday stated he would defend himself.

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Two sources who say they are aware of the alleged Dong briefing circumstances said that CSIS managers were roiled with internal deliberations in the fall of 2019 about whether — and how — to provide such a sensitive message to Liberal party officials.

“That is a key story, the briefing with [the] Liberal Party in the week before nominations closed,” a source recalled. “There was lots of pressure for weeks leading up to the deadline, that we need to do something.

After some deliberation among management, CSIS decided to meet Liberal party officials 48 hours before the federal nomination deadlines, according to the official. They said the intention was to warn Trudeau’s party about Dong before the nomination deadline expired, giving the party a chance to remove their nominee and install a new candidate.

“This was a classified briefing of serious and extremely sensitive nature to Liberal Party of Canada senior staff who hold security clearances,” the same intelligence official who says they have awareness of the alleged brief told Global News.

“CSIS was concerned that Han Dong was connected to People’s Republic of China foreign interference in Canada.”

The source said that information on an alleged Chinese interference network gleaned from the 2019 Han Dong investigation has been subsequently briefed to Prime Minister Trudeau’s office a number of times from 2019 to 2022. In the meantime, Dong was re-elected in 2021.

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The intelligence official said that the Privy Council Office has also summarized high-level CSIS findings about an alleged Chinese interference network that stemmed from the Dong investigation and reported the information in a January 2022 “Special Report” on China’s vast political subversion operations.

Three sources aware of the Dong investigation and subsequent alleged briefs and reports for senior Liberal government officials said they believe a concern of conflict is raised that the Liberal Party of Canada has been supported by Chinese Communist Party election interference in 2019 and 2021.

“Privy Council Office took the CSIS investigations and briefed this to the Prime Minister’s Office,” one intelligence official said. “It is clear there is a problem for the Liberal Party of Canada that are reviewing the intelligence, that the Conservative Party of Canada is the target of Chinese Communist Party attacks.

Speaking generally, two Canadian intelligence officials informed Global News that warning Canadian political leaders and party “gatekeepers” about party politicians often raises issues of sensitivity, and CSIS does not follow strict guidelines on how to engage with political leaders in these matters.

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