Claims of Chinese Election Meddling Put Trudeau on Defensive

OTTAWA — Leaked intelligence reports have sparked a political firestorm. They describe plans by the Chinese government and its diplomats in Canada to ensure Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party took power in the last two elections, raising troubling questions about the integrity of Canada’s democracy.

But as two prominent Canadian news organizations published a series of leaks over the past month, Trudeau has rejected calls to launch a public inquiry into the matter, angering political opponents and prompting accusations that he is covering up foreign attempts to undermine assumption. country elections.

The news reports present no evidence that the Chinese carried out any of their plans to meddle in or change the election results. And an independent review released this month as part of Canada’s routine monitoring of election interference confirmed the integrity of the 2019 and 2021 ballots.

Still, the leaks risk Trudeau appearing weak in the face of possible Chinese aggression and indecisive as a leader acting to preserve electoral integrity. His political opponents have accused him of being disloyal to Canada.

As intelligence leaks poured in, Trudeau went from trying to dismiss them and refusing to discuss them because of secrecy laws, to announcing a series of behind-the-scenes reviews related to election integrity.

Still, he continues to reject repeated calls for a public inquiry, which would include not just an independent investigation, but public hearings, arguing that other inquiries are more appropriate. He said he would only set up a public inquiry if one of his other reviews concludes it is necessary.

“Canada has some of the best and strongest elections in the world,” Trudeau told reporters. “All Canadians can have complete confidence that the results of the 2019 and 2021 elections were determined by Canadians, and Canadians alone, at the polls.”

The Liberals have accused the Conservatives of undermining public confidence in Canada’s electoral system by falsely claiming the government ignored warnings about possible Chinese interference. The Liberals also accused the Conservatives of using the leaks to stoke fear and suspicion of Chinese-Canadian elected officials, in an effort to discredit them and undermine their involvement in electoral politics.

Political attacks on Trudeau have been spearheaded by the Conservative Party leader, who says he is posing legitimate threats to Canadian democracy.

“He covered it up, even encouraged it to continue,” said the leader, Pierre Poilievre, who suggested that “the prime minister is acting against the interests of Canada and in favor of the interests of a foreign dictatorship.”

Current and past investigations into recent elections are not transparent and, in some cases, lacking independence from the Liberals, Poilievre said.

“He wants it closed and controlled and we want an open and independent inquiry to make sure it never happens again,” Poilievre told the House of Commons.

The heightened scrutiny of China’s efforts to subvert Canada’s political process, and the corresponding pressure on Trudeau, began in mid-February after the publication of an article in the Globe and Maila Toronto newspaper.

According to the newspaper, its reporters had seen unspecified secret and top-secret reports from Canada’s Security and Intelligence Service, commonly called CSIS, outlining Chinese officials’ intentions to rig the last two elections. The goal, according to the paper’s description of the leaks, was to prevent a victory for the Conservative Party, which the Chinese viewed as an excessively hard line toward China.

A Chinese consular official has bragged to her superiors that she engineered the defeat of two conservative candidates in 2021, the Globe and Mail reported, though the newspaper provided no evidence to back up her claim.

Articles and reports by The Globe and Mail on Global News, a Canada-based broadcaster, said the leaks described orders given to Canadian-based Chinese diplomats and, according to news reports, involved 11 of the 338 electoral districts of Canada.

Leaks to both news organizations described illegal cash payments to Liberals and the illegal recruitment by Chinese officials or their agents in Canada of international students from China, who were then reportedly pitched to Liberal campaigns as volunteers. . Trudeau and other liberals have characterized the reports as “inaccurate”.

Some of the alleged plans would have been difficult to execute within Canada’s electoral system, analysts said, because Canada tightly limits and controls campaign spending and fundraising.

“It seems like a very unsophisticated understanding of Canadian politics,” said Lori Turnbull, an associate professor of political science at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Other than that they originated from the intelligence service, little has been revealed about the exact nature of most of the documents leaked to the two news outlets, and it is unclear whether reporters saw them in their entirety. The sources of the information contained in the intelligence reports have also not been disclosed.

“It’s not necessarily evidence that a crime was committed,” said Stephanie Carvin, a professor of national security studies at Carleton University in Ottawa and a former Canadian government intelligence analyst. “Frankly we don’t know. The way I feel about this topic is that it’s a puzzle. There are a thousand pieces that the service has and we are seeing 10 of them”.

Still, the Conservatives have been able to corner Trudeau, while casting doubt on the loyalty of certain Chinese-Canadian elected officials in the Liberal Party, such as Michael Chan, a former Liberal cabinet minister in Ontario’s provincial government.

Global News reported last month that CSIS said that, at the request of Beijing, Mr. Chan arranged to replace a Liberal member of parliament from Toronto with a different candidate.

Mr Chan called that report nonsense because he has never had the authority to orchestrate such a thing. “I don’t know where the hell CSIS gets this information from,” he said.

Mr. Chan and other Chinese-Canadian officials have come under increased scrutiny and what he says are false, racially motivated accusations that he was under the influence of officials from the Chinese consulate in Toronto.

He has asked Trudeau to open an investigation into the “racial profiling” of the Chinese community by the intelligence service. “The whistleblower who tipped them off was just wrong, completely wrong,” he said.

Trudeau initially responded to allegations of Chinese election interference by urging the public to wait for the release of a routine review Canada uses to monitor foreign interference in elections.

That report, made public on March 2, concluded that while China, Russia and Iran tried to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 elections, they had no effect on their results. But that did not stop calls by opposition parties for a public inquiry.

Mr. Trudeau recently announced several moves to examine foreign interference. And he has pledged to conduct a public inquiry if recommended by a special reviewer who will make recommendations to prevent electoral subversion.

“We all agree that maintaining confidence in our democratic process in our elections in our institutions is of the utmost importance,” Trudeau said. “This is not and should never be a partisan issue.”

On Friday, the Globe and Mail published an essay he said it was written by his source, who was only described as “a national security official.”

The newspaper source said he or she acted because after years of what he or she saw as a serious escalation in the threat of foreign interference in voting, “it had become increasingly clear that no serious action.”

The writer lamented that the political debate unleashed by the leaks has been “marked by ugliness and division,” adding that he does not believe that any foreign power has “dictated the current composition of our federal government.”

David J. Bercuson, director emeritus of the Center for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary in Alberta, said he believes Trudeau will eventually have to allow a public inquiry.

Mr Trudeau, Professor Bercuson, has yet to “do something to resolve the growing mistrust”.