On foreign interference, Canada playing ‘whack-a-mole’ to China’s chess: expert

Click to play video: 'MP denies affiliation with China interference'
MP denies affiliation with China interference
RELATED: Liberal MP Han Dong is speaking out over allegations he was part of a Chinese foreign interference network during the 2019 federal election – Mar 22, 2023

Two former intelligence officials called for a complete transformation of Canada’s security apparatus to counter expanding foreign interference operations that they say have been essentially ignored by Ottawa since the 1990s.

On Friday the House of Commons standing committee on access to information, privacy and ethics heard recommendations for a new national and independent office with powers to investigate and prosecute acts of foreign interference, and also rapid adoption of counter-interference laws that have already been implemented by Canadian allies such as Australia.

Former CSIS officers Michel Juneau Katsuya and Dan Stanton were among witnesses including former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu and former Sing Tao Daily editor Victor Ho, telling MPs that they believe the Chinese Communist Party has deeply undermined democratic institutions in Canada.

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“We are focused on China because it is the A-Team. There is no comparison [to other nations] in terms of scope,” Stanton said. “China continues to play chess while Canada plays whack-a-mole.”

Juneau Katsuya testified that he learned during a 1990s joint investigation by CSIS and RCMP, that People’s Republic of China consular officials were allegedly clandestinely funding both the Liberal and Conservative parties of Canada.

Juneau Katsuya suggested that these operations have expanded in scope and sophistication in recent years, but during the 1990s, CSIS collected strong intelligence of China’s clandestine funding of Canadian politicians, because the Chinese diplomats targeting some ridings and nominations were “very sloppy.”

“CSIS has known about People’s Republic’s foreign interference in Canada for at least the last 30 years, and every government in this period has been compromised and infiltrated by agents of influence,” testified Juneau Katusya, adding he believes “every government” allowed key decisions to be manipulated by agents of influence or partisan concerns.

Click to play video: 'Pierre Poilievre alleges China ‘targeted’ Conservatives in alleged election interference'
Pierre Poilievre alleges China ‘targeted’ Conservatives in alleged election interference

Stanton said he agreed.

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“This is an existential threat,” Stanton testified. He said for 30 years, the People’s Republic of China has been operating with “confidence bordering on arrogance” and targeting the “soft underbelly” of Canadian institutions by seeking influence with politicians and bureaucrats.

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In answer to MP questions, Stanton said a number of states, including Russia and India, are interfering in Canada, but the “whole of society” networks that are under the control of the People’s Republic of China’s national security laws make threats from other states look minor in comparison.

Several parliamentary committees have been examining China’s interference threats since Global News exclusively reported last November on intelligence document and source allegations that outlined vast interference from the Toronto Chinese consulate in the 2019 federal election, and broader interference continuing in the 2021 election and against Asian diaspora communities in Canada.

Stanton told MPs on Friday he has seen no reforms in Ottawa since last November, and he questioned the government’s response of consulting the public in “town halls” on a foreign interference registry, which would be a helpful but minimal step to address China’s clandestine so-called “United Front” interference networks, he said.

Juneau Katsuya said Canada could adopt new laws implemented in Australia in 2018 to address similar threats from the People’s Republic. But providing the RCMP and CSIS with more money to tackle foreign interference won’t work, both Stanton and Juneau Katsuya said.

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Juneau Katsuya said at CSIS, for example, a “lack of transparency didn’t allow us to share warnings with the public,” about serious interference and espionage against Canadian companies. While CSIS privately warned the federal government, “nothing happened,” to counter threats.

That is why, he said, Canada needs a new independent office not connected to the RCMP and CSIS that will be empowered by Parliament to independently investigate and prosecute serious acts of interference.

Click to play video: '‘Ridiculous’: China dismisses Canada’s allegations of election interference'
‘Ridiculous’: China dismisses Canada’s allegations of election interference

He suggested that since successive administrations in Ottawa have turned a blind eye to Chinese Communist Party infiltration, the new agency he recommended would need to be free of political influence in Ottawa.

Meanwhile, former British Columbia Conservative MP Kenny Chiu said he believes himself and other MPs were successfully smeared in Chinese Communist Party media disinformation operations in the 2021 federal election, an allegation that has been widely reported in both media and several academic studies.

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“The aim of these Chinese Communist Party shadow operations is to exploit our weakness through [media channels] like WeChat, and promote and spread disinformation,” Chiu said.

He added that he spoke with CSIS about these disinformation operations, but believes the service essentially did nothing to protect him and other MPs targeted by Chinese intelligence election interference.

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