Poilievre accuses Trudeau of ignoring election interference by China

Poilievre accuses Trudeau of ignoring election interference by China

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre accused Justin Trudeau on Friday of ignoring Chinese interference in the most recent federal election because Beijing’s efforts were aimed at helping the Liberals — but Trudeau said his government is taking the threat seriously.

The Globe and Mail reported Friday that secret and top-secret documents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said Beijing sought to ensure a Liberal minority government and the defeat of several Conservative candidates in the 2021 federal election. A former Chinese consul-general in Vancouver bragged about her efforts in helping to defeat two Conservative MPs, according to the reports detailed in the Globe story.

Poilievre said Friday he finds it hard to believe Trudeau wasn’t aware of CSIS’s findings.

“Justin Trudeau knew about this interference, and he covered it up because he benefited from it,” Poilievre told a news conference. He did not cite evidence beyond the Globe story.

“He’s perfectly happy to let a foreign, authoritarian government interfere in our elections as long as they’re helping him.”

WATCH | Poilievre accuses PM of trying to ‘cover up’ Chinese interference

Poilievre accuses PM of trying to ‘cover up’ Chinese interference

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre claims Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to ‘cover up’ Chinese interference in the last federal election.

But Trudeau said he’s aware of the threat and foreign interference did not change the outcomes of the 2019 and 2021 elections.

“I have been saying for years, including on the floor of the House of Commons, that China is trying to interfere in our democracy, in the process in our country, including during our elections,” he told a news conference Monday.

“Canada has some of the best and most robust elections in the world, and all Canadians can have total confidence that the outcomes of the 2019 and 2021 elections were determined by Canadians, and Canadians alone, at the voting booth,” Trudeau added, citing the reports of two election integrity panels that looked at the 2019 and 2021 elections.

Trudeau said Canada’s intelligence agencies have been working “very hard” to counter the threat.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media on February 12, 2023. Trudeau said Canada’s intelligence agencies are working hard to counter electoral interference. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

Several issues have contributed to the current tense relationship between Canada and China, among them China’s detention of two Canadians and Canada’s move to ban the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from the Canadian 5G network.

The Conservatives raised the issue of Chinese foreign interference in question period Friday. Calgary Shepard member of Parliament Tom Kmiec asked whether the government is taking the issue seriously.

“Did the prime minister turn a blind eye to foreign interference because he stood to gain from it politically?” Kmiec asked.

Jennifer O’Connell, parliamentary secretary to the minister of intergovernmental affairs, responded that the government had set up multiple committees to address and study foreign interference. Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair chimed in that he had written to all MPs in December 2020 about the threat to elections from foreign actors — particularly China.

A CSIS spokesperson told CBC that it wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the Globe and Mail’s report, but said that the agency takes allegations of foreign interference “very seriously.”

“Although Canada’s electoral system is strong, foreign interference can erode trust and threaten the integrity of our democratic institutions, political system, fundamental rights and freedoms, and ultimately, our sovereignty,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Calls for harder line on foreign interference

Critics of the government have pressed it to come up with a more aggressive strategy on foreign interference since a Global News story last year said CSIS briefed the prime minister on Chinese plans to interfere in the 2019 election. Sources cited in the story said China’s government covertly funded candidates in the campaign.

The government has faced calls to establish a foreign agents’ registry, like those in the United States and Australia.

Poilievre said the government should establish one.

“I believe we need a public registry of all those who do paid work on behalf of foreign, authoritarian regimes,” he said Friday.

Trudeau did not answer a question Friday about whether the government plans to introduce a registry.

China has denied interfering in Canada’s elections. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said last year that Beijing has “no interest in Canada’s internal affairs.”

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki told a House of Commons committee last year that the Mounties had no evidence of foreign interference at the time of the 2019 election, but added the force has active investigations of foreign interference.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan said Friday the government should be more transparent when it’s briefed on foreign interference.

“They cannot try to shield this information just because it may be that it’s the Liberal who will be benefiting, potentially, from these activities,” Kwan said in an interview.

“The issue here, for me, fundamentally — irrespective of parties — is about our democratic system. Something that I think sometimes we take for granted, but for me, as an immigrant … is something that I absolutely cherish.”

WATCH | International affairs and security scholar Akshay Singh on Chinese interfernece

CSIS documents show Chinese strategy to influence Canada’s 2021 election, Globe & Mail reports

“We should be concerned and I think we should be having an informed conversation about what we are going to do next,” says international affairs and security scholar Akshay Singh.

China’s plan a ‘very serious threat’: expert

Dennis Molinaro, a professor of legal studies at Ontario Tech University, said the amount of detail in the plans described in the Globe story is notable — and troubling.

“What stood out to me was essentially the organized plan here, the broad spread, systematic kind of campaign, essentially, that they were organizing and putting together to actually influence an election,” he told CBC News

“That takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of planning, and that’s a very serious, serious threat, to my mind, for Canadian national security and Canada’s democratic institutions.”

Molinaro said it’s hard to determine whether the interference influenced the outcome without knowing how much interference there was.

“If you don’t know, if you’re not seeing it all — and I don’t know that we are or have been — that’s the biggest problem … How can you be so confident in making that assertion?” he said.

Dennis Molinaro, a former national security analyst, said the government should bring in stricter laws to counter foreign interference. (CBC)

Molinaro said the government should create an independent commission to investigate foreign interference, as well as a registry for foreign agents.

He said Canada can look to Australia for a model for tougher laws to address foreign interference.

He added that Canadians should take note that the Chinese government and Chinese-Canadians don’t necessarily share the same agenda.

“The [People’s Republic of China] … is attempting to utilize various portions of that community that are essentially aligned with them — and that’s not everyone,” he said.

Molinaro said the issue needs more investigation, given the stakes.

“These are your elections, this is your country, and this should not be happening.”

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