‘Urgent’ to fix gaps in foreign interference defences before next election: Mendicino

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Public Safety Minister mum on whether he was briefed on interference memos
WATCH - Public Safety Minister mum on whether he was briefed on interference memos – Mar 12, 2023

It is “urgent” to fix gaps in Canada’s defences against foreign interference before the next federal election, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told MPs on Thursday.

Mendicino told a House of Commons committee Wednesday that “we need to study very carefully” concerns about how Canada’s security and intelligence community handles foreign intervention in elections.

Mendicino was responding to earlier testimony before the committee, which is investigating allegations of Chinese foreign interference operations in both the 2019 and 2021 general elections. Fred DeLorey, the Conservatives’ 2021 national campaign director, told the committee on Tuesday that when it came to his party interacting with intelligence agencies on foreign interference issues, it felt like a “one-way street” – with party officials raising concerns and not getting “necessarily anything back.”

Asked about those comments, Mendicino pointed to a government report released earlier in April that recommended significant changes to how the Canadian government addresses foreign interference operations – including during election periods.

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“It is urgent, yes. But there are tangible recommendations that we can now use,” Mendicino said.

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Mendicino did not offer a timeline for implementing those recommendations or fixing the perceived “gaps,” and didn’t elaborate on what legislative fixes he would prioritize. But he urged MPs to “work together as parliamentarians … to confront this threat in the complex and ever-evolving international landscape.”

That spirit of cross-partisanship did not last long into Thursday’s meeting.

The Opposition Conservatives used their time to ask – repeatedly – why the Liberal government has not expelled Chinese diplomats in the wake of allegations the Chinese government had established covert “police stations” on Canadian soil.

Michael Cooper, the Conservatives’ lead MP on the committee, suggested the Liberals were “soft on Beijing.”

Mendicino responded that the RCMP have taken “decisive action to shut down” the stations, and said the Liberals have been “concrete and proactive” in combating foreign interference – including granting new powers for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

CSIS director David Vigneault, one of Canada’s top national security officials, was also present at the committee’s hearing – but did not receive a single question from either government or opposition MPs.

The committee’s probe was launched after Global News reported the Liberals were warned of a sophisticated foreign interference network ahead of the 2019 campaign. Citing unnamed national security sources, Global News reported that the network included both Liberals and Conservatives, and attempted to tip the scales in favour of at least 11 candidates in the 2019 election.

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The network was allegedly being run out of the Chinese consulate in Toronto, Global’s sources said.

The Globe and Mail also reported that CSIS was aware of a similar attempt by China’s government to sway the 2021 campaign, which saw the Liberals returned to power with a minority government despite losing the popular vote.

The Globe’s reporting suggested that the Liberals’ return to power was the favoured outcome for Beijing. But there is no evidence to suggest that the integrity of either election was compromised, or the overall results shaped by foreign intervention.

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