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‘Appalling’: B.C. mayor unimpressed with Ottawa amid foreign meddling claim

Click to play video: 'B.C. mayor Brad West says he was victim of foreign election interference'
B.C. mayor Brad West says he was victim of foreign election interference
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West says he was the victim of Chinese political interference. He talks about the situation he dealt with during the last municipal elections. – Aug 25, 2023

The mayor of Port Coquitlam says he’s unimpressed with Ottawa’s efforts to crack down on Chinese political interference amid allegations that Beijing tried to run a candidate against him.

Brad West, elected for a second term last October, believes Canada needs a full public inquiry, a national registry of foreign agents, and to “kick” people with confirmed involvement out of the country.

“This gets to a real fundamental question about our democracy, about Canadians being able to have confidence and trust in the people who they elect,” he told Global News on Friday.

“This idea that we’re just so weak in our response, and in our own country, we don’t have the ability to stop these activities from happening and deport the individuals who are engaged in them, is really, really poor.”

Click to play video: '‘Highly probable’ China targeted MP Michael Chong: Global Affairs'
‘Highly probable’ China targeted MP Michael Chong: Global Affairs

West’s criticism comes days after The Bureau published his claims that the Chinese Communist Party aimed to unseat him in the Oct. 15, 2022, municipal election by trying to run its own candidate.

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West told Global News he learned of the alleged and ultimately unsuccessful plot from members of the Chinese Canadian community, who obtained WeChat messages about candidate recruitment from individuals in Vancouver who were “closely associated” with the Chinese government.

“They took those messages and they passed those on to CSIS,” West said.

“And I had had a previous discussion with CSIS on a couple of occasions in fact, that I was very much on the radar of the Chinese government because of my outspokenness, and particularly because I had opposed the relationship between the Chinese government and the Union of the BC Municipalities.”

Click to play video: 'RCMP investigating foreign meddling against Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan'
RCMP investigating foreign meddling against Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan

The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) has previously come under fire for accepting money from China.

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In July 2019, it announced an independent panel would review how its annual convention is funded or sponsored. Later that year, it moved to ban foreign government sponsorship of the event based on recommendations from the panel’s report.

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West had repeatedly criticized the convention’s funding at the time, as well as the exclusive cocktail reception hosted by the Chinese government that has accompanied it at a cost of $6,000 for attendees.

At the September 2019 reception, West joined about a dozen protesters in delivering a symbolic “care package” of Tim Hortons doughnuts. Pictures of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — two Canadians detained in China at the time — were attached to the box of treats.

In his interview with Global News, West described the cocktail party as an event where Beijing pays the UBCM for access to local mayors and city councillors — “completely wrong, not only because at that time two of our fellow Canadian citizens were being held hostage by the Chinese government and subject to God knows (what), but also because of the simple belief that elected officials should be working for the citizens of this country and nobody else.”

Click to play video: 'Foreign interference: Parties co-operating well on setting up inquiry, LeBlanc says'
Foreign interference: Parties co-operating well on setting up inquiry, LeBlanc says

A warning from CSIS, he alleges, followed in early 2020.

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“I was advised a couple of months afterwards by CSIS that (the advocacy) had greatly upset the Chinese government, that they had been embarrassed by that,” he explained.

“So that very much put me on their radar.”

In an emailed statement, the UBCM declined to address West’s comments, instead pointing to changes adopted in 2020 after its 2019 policy review. Those include keeping annual convention fees as low as possible, continuing to seek sponsorship to offset convention costs, and having its executive vet and approve all sponsors and tradeshow participants.

“Foreign governments will not be permitted to sponsor/finance any UBCM Convention events such as receptions and other networking opportunities,” it wrote.

Click to play video: 'Foreign election interference: Conversations with Opposition are ongoing in private, says minister'
Foreign election interference: Conversations with Opposition are ongoing in private, says minister

Reached on Friday, CSIS sent Global News the same emailed statement that it sent to The Bureau.

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Spokesperson Lindsay Sloan declined to confirm or deny any discussions with West about China, stating: “There are important limits to what I can publicly discuss given the need to protect sensitive activities, techniques, methods, and sources of intelligence. These limitations are essential to ensure the safety, security, and prosperity of Canada.

“CSIS takes any allegation of foreign interference very seriously and uses the full mandate of the CSIS Act in order to investigate, advise the Government of Canada, and address these threats. CSIS will continue to investigate threats of foreign interference and we are working closely with our domestic and foreign partners, as well as the communities most affected.”

The intelligence agency further stated that it briefed 49 members of Parliament, 26 provincial politicians and 17 municipal representatives about foreign interference threats last year alone.

Other notable politicians who’ve said CSIS told them they were allegedly targets of political interference by China include Tory MP Michael Chong, NDP MP Jenny Kwan, former Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, and former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says ‘buy-in’ needed from other parties before taking next steps on foreign interference'
Trudeau says ‘buy-in’ needed from other parties before taking next steps on foreign interference

West said such allegations have likely “just scratched the surface” of meddling in Canadian politics, calling the level of political action on the issue “appalling.”

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“We’re aware of potential payments being made by the Chinese government towards candidates (who) were involved in them trying to place their own people into high-ranking positions,” he said.

“We’ve just scratched the surface and we already know things that are incredibly disturbing, and so a full federal public inquiry, I think, is required. We need to toughen our laws.”

Global News has reached out to federal Public Safety and Democratic Institutions Minister Dominic LeBlanc for comment.

Federal all-party discussions about a public inquiry on foreign interference have stretched into the summer, with work reportedly underway to develop its terms of reference and choose someone to lead it. However, little information about what form the inquiry would take has emerged.

NDP MP Peter Julian, who is part of the discussions with other House leaders, told The Canadian Press on Monday he is “confident” Canada will have an inquiry by the end of the summer.

Former governor general David Johnston resigned in the spring as the special rapporteur on foreign interference, three months after his appointment by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, over conflict of interest concerns from the opposition due to his ties to Trudeau’s family and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

— with files from Global News’ Simon Little and The Canadian Press’ Mickey Djuric

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