Allegations of Chinese interference in the election put Trudeau on the defensive

OTTAWA — The 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 came to power in the last two elections, raising worrying questions about the integrity of Canadian democracy.

However, with two prominent Canadian news organizations publishing a series of leaks over the past month, Mr Trudeau rejected calls to open a public inquiry into the matter, angering political opponents and leading to accusations that he was covering up foreign attempts to undermine his state elections.

The news reports provide no evidence that the Chinese have carried out any of their plans to interfere or alter 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 votes.

Still, for Mr. Trudeau, the leaks risk appearing weak in the face of potential Chinese aggression and indecisive as a leader committed to upholding electoral integrity. His political opponents accuse him of disloyalty to Canada.

As the intelligence leaks have flowed, Mr Trudeau has gone from trying to fire them and refusing to discuss them because of secrecy laws to announcing a series of behind-closed-door checks related to the integrity of elections.

Still, he dismisses repeated calls for a public inquiry – which would include not only an independent inquiry but also public hearings – arguing that other inquiries are more appropriate. He said he would launch a public inquiry only if one of his other reviews concluded it was necessary.

“Canada has some of the best and most solid elections in the world,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters. “All Canadians can have complete confidence that the results of the 2019 and 2021 elections were determined by Canadians and only Canadians at the voting booth.”

Liberals have accused the Conservatives of undermining public confidence in Canada’s electoral system by falsely claiming the government ignored warnings of possible Chinese interference. Liberals have also accused Conservatives of using the leaks to incite fear and distrust of Chinese Canadian elected officials in order to discredit them and undermine their involvement in electoral politics.

The political attacks on Mr Trudeau were spearheaded by the leader of the Conservative Party, who says it poses legitimate threats to Canadian democracy.

“He covered it up and even encouraged it to continue,” said Chairman Pierre Poilievre, who implied 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 the recent elections are not transparent and in some cases lack independence from the Liberals, Mr Poilievre said.

“He wants closed and controlled and we want an open and independent inquiry to make sure something like this never happens again,” Mr Poilievre said in the Commons.

Increased scrutiny of China’s efforts to undermine Canada’s political process – and pressure on Mr Trudeau to match – began in mid-February after the release of an article in The Globe and Maila Toronto newspaper.

According to the newspaper, its reporters had seen unspecified classified and top-secret reports from Canada’s Security and Intelligence Agency, commonly known as CSIS, detailing intentions by Chinese officials to rig the last two elections. The goal, the newspaper described the leaks, was to prevent a victory for the Conservative Party, which the Chinese saw as an overly hard line on China.

A Chinese consular official boasted to her superiors that she engineered the defeat of two conservative candidates in 2021, The Globe and Mail reported, although the newspaper offered no evidence to support her claim.

The Globe and Mail’s articles and reports on Global News, a Canada-based broadcaster, said the leaks described orders issued by Canadian-based Chinese diplomats, affecting 11 of Canada’s 338 constituencies, according to the news reports.

The leaks to both news organizations detailed illegal cash payments to liberals and illegal hiring of international students from China by Chinese officials or their agents in Canada, who were then reportedly introduced to liberal campaigns as volunteers. Mr Trudeau and other Liberals have called the reports “inaccurate”.

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

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

Aside from being Secret Service sources, little has been revealed about the exact nature of most of the documents leaked to the two news outlets, and it’s unclear if reporters saw them in full. The sources of the information contained in the intelligence reports were also not disclosed.

“It’s not necessarily evidence that a crime took place,” said Stephanie Carvin, a professor of national security studies at Carleton University in Ottawa and a former Canadian government intelligence analyst. “We honestly don’t know. The way I think about this problem is that it’s a mystery. There are a thousand pieces the service has and we see 10 of them.”

Still, the Conservatives were able to corner Mr. Trudeau while raising doubts about the loyalty of certain Chinese-Canadian elected officials in the Liberal Party, such as Michael Chan, a former Liberal cabinet minister in the Ontario provincial government.

Global News reported last month that CSIS said Mr Chan had arranged, at Beijing’s request, to replace a liberal Toronto MP with another candidate.

Mr. Chan called this report nonsense because he never had the authority to orchestrate such a thing. “I don’t know where the hell CSIS got 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 allegations that he was under the influence of officials at the Chinese Consulate in Toronto.

He has asked Mr Trudeau to launch an investigation into the intelligence agency’s racial profiling of the Chinese community. “The whistleblower who informed them was just wrong, dead wrong,” he said.

Mr. Trudeau first responded to allegations of Chinese election interference by urging the public to wait for the release of a routine review that Canada uses to monitor foreign election interference.

That report, released on March 2, concluded that while China, Russia and Iran tried to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 elections, they failed to affect their results. But that hasn’t stifled calls from opposition parties for a public inquiry.

Mr. Trudeau recently announced several steps to investigate foreign interference. And he pledged to conduct a public inquiry if recommended by a special reviewer who will make recommendations to prevent voter subversion.

“We all agree that maintaining confidence in our democratic process in our elections within our institutions is of paramount importance,” Mr Trudeau said. “This is and should never be a partisan issue.”

On Friday, The Globe and Mail published an article it was written by its source, who was only described as “a national security official”.

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

The author lamented that the political debate sparked by the leaks was “marred by ugliness and division,” adding that he or she did not believe that any foreign power “dictated the current makeup 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 Mr. Trudeau must eventually allow a public inquiry.

Mr Trudeau, Professor Bercuson, has yet to do “everything to allay the growing suspicions”. Allegations of Chinese interference in the election put Trudeau on the defensive

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