Economy

Trudeau expands probe into claims Canadian lawmakers conspired with China, India to sway elections

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday ceded to opposition pressure to expand a public investigation into allegations some members of Parliament and senators knowingly conspired with foreign adversaries, including China and India, to influence elections and politics at home. 

After reviewing 4,000 classified documents and 1,000 pieces of evidence, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) released a special report last week claiming unnamed federal-level elected officials have been ‘in the words of the intelligence services, ‘semi-witting or witting’ participants in the efforts of foreign states to interfere in our politics.’ 

Trudeau was asked about the report at a press conference in Quebec City on Monday. 

‘Mr. Trudeau, you’ve seen the NSICOP report. Do you think the allegations in it rise to the level of treason?’ a reporter said.

Trudeau responded: ‘I think it’s extremely important that we continue to take foreign interference with all the seriousness that it requires, which is why we will be supporting the Bloc Québécois motion to send the report and the concerns raised in it to Commissioner [Marie-Josée] Hogue’s work to make sure there is a clear process whereby Canadians can have confidence in the integrity of the democracy.’ 

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called on Truduea’s Liberal government to name the lawmakers referenced in the redacted report, but Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said doing so would be against the law. LeBlance said he did agree, however, to an expanded public inquiry sought by the Bloc Québécois. 

The Bloc Québécois introduced a motion to broaden the scope of the Hogue Commission, which was already investigating foreign interference and elected meddling since September, ‘to investigate parliamentarians who may have voluntarily or involuntarily worked for the interests of powers foreign.’ Trudeau first tasked Justice Marie-Josée Hogue with leading the commission last fall amid allegations the Chinese government mobilized voters against a Conservative candidate in western Canada and helped elect another candidate as a Liberal in the Toronto area, Politico reported. 

‘Certain members of this House acted in the best interest of hostile foreign regimes interfering in Canada’s democracy. This is a disgusting betrayal of Canadians who elected us,’ Conservative party legislator Jasraj Singh Hallan told the House of Commons on Monday, according to Reuters. 

‘It is unacceptable that deputies or senators can serve, whether without their knowledge or not, as intermediaries for foreign powers hostile to our democracy,’ René Villemure, Bloc Québécois ethics spokesperson, said in a statement. 

It is unclear, however, if the report will result in criminal charges.

At another point of the press conference Monday, Trudeau took an opportunity instead to condemn conservative and far-right party wins in France and elsewhere following the European Parliament elections. European voters largely rejected socialism and leftist policies at the polls on Sunday. 

‘We have seen around the world a rise of populist right-wing forces in just about every democracy that we’ve seen. And it is of concern to see political parties choosing to instrumentalize anger, fear, division, anxiety,’ Trudeau said. ‘My approach has always been to respond to it. To understand it and to look to solve it. Roll up our sleeves, work hard and with ambition for this country and for our future. And I continue to be convinced that Canadians are thoughtful about the challenges we’re facing and ready to see them solved, rather than allow themselves – have their anger amplified without any solutions offered.’ 

The special report on ‘foreign interference in Canada’s democratic processes and institutions’ was released by the NSICOP on June 3. Its findings include that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and Communications Security Establishment (CSE) ‘produced a body of intelligence that showed that foreign actors used deceptive and clandestine methods to cultivate relationships with Canadians who they believed would be useful in advancing their interests – particularly members of Parliament and senators – with a view of having the Canadian act in favour of the foreign actor and against Canada’s interests.’ 

While in some cases, ‘parliamentarians were unaware they were the target of foreign interference,’ the reports noted how ‘some elected officials, however, began wittingly assisting foreign state actors soon after their election.’ The report was redacted to remove ‘injurious or privileged information,’ but indicates there are ‘examples of members of Parliament who worked to influence their colleagues on India’s behalf and proactively provided confidential information to Indian officials.’ 

Without using the lawmaker’s name, the redacted report mentions another ‘textbook example of foreign interference that saw a foreign state support a witting politician.’ 

Canada’s intelligence agency ‘provided specific intelligence to the secret-cleared representatives of the party shortly before the election and to the Prime Minister shortly after’ and Trudeau ‘discussed this incident with the Committee and the steps he took in response to the intelligence reporting,’ the special report says, redacting the specifics. 

The People’s Republic of China has remained ‘the largest foreign interference threat to Canada,’ but since 2019, the committee assessed, Russia, which once came in second place, focused its strategic priorities elsewhere, while India emerged as the ‘second-most significant foreign interference threat to Canada’s democratic institutions and processes.’ 

‘The PRC’s foreign interference efforts continue to be sophisticated, persistent and multidimensional, targeting all orders of Canadian government and various facets of society and relying upon a number of methods,’ the report says. 

The CSIS assessed that the Chinese government ‘believes that its relationship with some members of Parliament rests on a quid pro quo that any member’s engagement with the PRC will result in the PRC mobilizing its network in the member’s favour.’ The report notes the PRC ‘would show support for lawmakers in ridings with large numbers of ethnic Chinese voters and who maintain close relationships with the Chinese ethnocultural community, including through Chinese leader and business people.’

‘In the period under review, intelligence reporting from CSIS and CSE showed that foreign states attempted to covertly buy influence with candidates and elected officials,’ the report says.

The PRC was also said to have used ‘intermediaries to provide funds likely to support candidates in the 2019 federal election, including two transfers of funds approximating $250,000 through a prominent community leader, a political staffer and then an Ontario member of Provincial Parliament,’ but the report said ‘CSIS could not confirm that the funds reached any candidate.’ 

Also redacted from the report were details about ‘CSIS information that an Indian proxy claims to have repeatedly transferred funds from India to politicians at all levels of government in return for political favours, including raising issues in Parliament at the proxy’s request.’ 

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