China meddling in Canada: CSIS documents show China warned ‘Canadian friends’ of foreign-interference invest igations
The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition)
18 Feb 2023
ROBERT FIFE STEVEN CHASE With a report from Carrie Tait in Calgary.
SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRES
SCSIS reports show that Chinese influence included disinformation campaigns, undeclared cash donations and utilizing international students for voting.
Trudeau says he expects an investigation into the source of leaks to Globe, denies Beijing’s interference in elections
Chinese diplomats quietly issued warnings to “friendly” influential Canadians in early 2022, advising them to reduce their contact with federal politicians to avoid being caught up in foreign-interference investigations by Canada’s spy agency.
Secret and top-secret Canadian Security Intelligence Service documents viewed by The Globe and Mail reveal how China sought to protect its network of “Canadian friends” – a community it relies on to build relations, influence and covertly gather information from MPs and senators.
The Globe reported Friday how China employed a sophisticated strategy to seek the return of a minority Liberal government and to defeat Conservative politicians considered to be unfriendly to Beijing in the 2021 federal election.
The tactics, outlined in secret CSIS reports, included disinformation campaigns, undeclared cash donations and the use of international Chinese students, studying in Canada, as campaign volunteers to support preferred Liberal candidates.
The classified documents show that Chinese influence operations went beyond election interference, employing tactics to target Canadian legislators and sway public opinion through proxies in the business and academic communities.
In response to The Globe story, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters at a Friday news conference that he expects CSIS to find out who is leaking the secret reports, and stuck to his long-held view that Chinese interference operations did not affect the overall results of the 2019 and 2021 elections.
“It’s certainly a sign that security within CSIS needs to be reviewed. And I’m expecting CSIS to take the issue very seriously,” Mr. Trudeau said.
MPs on the Commons Procedure and House Affairs committee are already looking into allegations that China interfered in the 2019 campaign. Opposition parties want the committee to return from a scheduled two-week break on Wednesday to hold hearings on The Globe’s report concerning the 2021 election.
As for foreign interference in federal elections, the Prime Minister played down reports of Chinese state meddling. The CSIS report talked of how China’s former consul-general in Vancouver, Tong Xiaoling, boasted in 2021 about how she helped defeat two Conservative MPs.
“The fact that a Chinese diplomat would try to take credit for things that happened is not something that is unseen in diplomatic circles around the world,” Mr. Trudeau said.
He said a task force of civil servants in Ottawa is keeping Canada’s election results safe from foreign interference. “Canadians can have total confidence that the outcomes of the 2019 and the 2021 elections were determined by Canadians and Canadians alone at the voting booth.”
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre accused Mr. Trudeau of “covering up the interference of the authoritarian regime” in China. “He is perfectly happy to let a foreign authoritarian government interfere in our elections as long as they’re helping him,” he said in Calgary.
The highly classified information about China’s strategy of recruiting business executives, university professors and researchers were shared with senior Canadian government officials and Canada’s Fives Eyes intelligence allies: the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. The CSIS reports were also shared with German, French, Dutch and Swedish spy services.
In a Jan. 15, 2022, intelligence report, CSIS said China had learned that the spy agency for the first time was warning individual MPs and senators from all major parties about influence operations being carried out by Beijing. That set in motion an effort by Chinese diplomats to close down foreign-interference operations directed at elected officials in Ottawa.
“[People’s Republic of China] officials believe that CSIS is conducting investigations into Chinese foreign interference in Canada, resulting in officials considering that it is more prudent for “Canadian friends” to cease contacts with MPs for the time being,” the report said. “PRC officials will simply need to provide an ambiguous warning to the ‘Canadian friends’ in order for the latter to grasp the situation.”
The documents do not identify the Canadian business executives, academics or researchers.
CSIS has become increasingly alarmed about efforts by China and its agents of influence to covertly cultivate relations with elected officials to gain sway over parliamentary debates and government decision-making. The spy service had asked MPs to alert them of any suspicious activity, and provided the politicians with names and contact information of CSIS agents whom they can contact to pass on information.
Canadian friends were described by CSIS as non-ethnic-Chinese individuals who maintain relations with PRC officials in Canada and have close ties with federal politicians in the Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic parties. CSIS said the warning from China was not sent to Chinese-Canadians who were close to MPs as “PRC officials are very well acquainted with those individuals,” the report said.
Of particular concern to Beijing was CSIS’s new focus of trying to put pressure on Canadian universities and researchers from collaborating with China on leading-edge science and technology projects. The report said one Chinese diplomat in Canada said CSIS was “unnecessarily investigating PRC-focused academics” and said PRC officials should warn these academics about the investigations.
In 2021, Ottawa put in place stricter guidelines to require national-security reviews for academics seeking federal funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). But that did not apply to other federal funding bodies.
Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne extended the ban to all federal granting agencies after The Globe revealed late last month that 50 Canadian universities had been collaborating with China’s National University of Defence Technology since 2005. Mr. Champagne announced on Tuesday that Ottawa would no longer fund research with Chinese military or state security institutions. He also urged Canadian universities to adopt the same stringent national-security measures.
China’s consulate-general in Vancouver accused The Globe of smearing and discrediting China. “The Chinese side has made it clear on many occasions that China has always adhered to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and has never interfered in any Canadian election or internal affairs in any way,” said a statement on its website.
Walied Soliman, who served as the co-chair of the 2021 Conservative election campaign, said on Twitter Friday that the federal government’s Security and Intelligence Threats To Elections (SITE) task force did not take his party’s concerns about foreign interference seriously.
“Our party was seeing clear signs of tampering in ridings with substantial Chinese diasporas,” he said. “We were met with shrugged shoulders and complete ambivalence. It was truly unreal,” he said.
Andy Ellis, former CSIS assistant director of operations, said Ottawa should have expelled the Chinese diplomats behind the election interference operations even if it meant a tit-for-tat response from Beijing.
“There certainly should have been very, very serious consideration given to declaring them persona non grata,” Mr. Ellis said. “Making a hard judgment to say what is worse losing a diplomat in Beijing in retaliation for this or getting rid of someone who is disrupting Canadian elections.”
Mr. Poilievre called on the federal government to set up a foreign-agent registry that would keep track of all people paid to influence Canadian governments on behalf of foreign countries.
Mr. Trudeau declined to answer a question on whether Ottawa would proceed to set up a registry such as exist in Australia and the United States.
David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China with a diplomatic career stretching back more than 30 years, said The Globe’s reporting on China’s efforts to influence the 2021 election underscores the need to shine a light on those working for foreign states.
“These revelations make clear the extent to which China uses proxies to deliver its influence campaigns,” he said. The Canadian government “needs to move from musing about a registry of foreign agents to actually establishing one. And the sooner the better.”
He said a registry would make a difference.
“Simply announcing that we are going to require individuals to be transparent about disbursing funds for, lobbying for, or speaking for a foreign state would put China on notice,” he said.
“Much of Beijing’s interference effort in Canada is delivered through individuals who are paid to do those things by Chinese officials. Canadians need to know who’s pulling the strings and cutting the cheques.”
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