Globe and Mail to PM Justin Trudeau Gov’t: Time to Get Real about Foreign Interference, esp. by PRC (note UPDATE)

Further to this post and “Comments”,

Don’t Bet on a PM Trudeau Government Investigating PRC Interference in Canada’s Election (note UPDATE)

Canada’s leading newspaper (fairly centrist, has been hard on the Chicom case for quite a few years, e.g. this 2015 story: “CSIS warned this cabinet minister could be a threat. Ontario disagreed“) now puts things sharply and starkly in an editorial aimed at our so-far milquetoast prime minister and his Liberal Party:

Did China target a Conservative MP in Canada’s last federal election? [note further links in piece]

The snap federal election in September was largely forgettable, given that it produced a second straight minority Liberal government and left Parliament essentially unchanged.

There was another side to it, however – a disturbing one that Parliament needs to address urgently: Was an online disinformation campaign that targeted an incumbent Conservative MP in British Columbia the work of the Chinese government?

The Conservative Party has been asking questions about it for months. An independent American body, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, raised the possibility in November. And now, McGill University researchers Sze-Fung Lee and Benjamin Fung have published a paper arguing that the case of former MP Kenny Chiu clearly demonstrates that “Canada remains vulnerable to the security risk constituted by foreign interference.”

There is no smoking gun connecting Beijing to what happened in Steveston-Richmond East, a B.C. riding whose population is about 50 per cent ethnic Chinese.

But there is also no question that the interests of whoever it was that spread disinformation about Mr. Chiu aligned with those of the Chinese government.

It’s also clear that one of the chief means of spreading the disinformation was WeChat. The social-media app has more than one billion users, is widely used by many Canadians of Chinese origin, and is heavily censored by Beijing.Mr. Chiu, a Hong Kong native who emigrated to Canada in 1982, and was elected Conservative MP for Steveston-Richmond East in 2019, has been a thorn in Beijing’s side. A pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong, he was also vice-chair of the Parliamentary Sub-committee on International Human Rights, which in 2020 declared that China’s maltreatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority amounted to genocide.

Last March, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs imposed retaliatory sanctions on the MPs on the sub-committee, after the House of Commons passed a Conservative motion that said the Uyghur persecution met the United Nation’s definition of genocide. Under the sanctions, Mr. Chiu cannot travel to Hong Kong, his birthplace.

Mr. Chiu subsequently tabled a private member’s bill that would have required anyone working for a foreign government, or for a company controlled by a foreign government, to register with Ottawa when lobbying Canadian officials and elected members.

Bill C-282 never got past first reading. But during the election, as the researchers at McGill and at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab documented, it was used to attack Mr. Chiu on WeChat and other Chinese social media.

According to the Digital Forensic Research Lab, “the principal actor behind the Canadian election case” was HuayiNet, a translation company that does work for Chinese consulates in Canada and the United States.

Using a WeChat account misleadingly called “Toronto consulate,” a HuayiNet employee pushed out stories that falsely claimed that Mr. Chiu’s bill was designed to suppress pro-China opinions in Canada, and that anyone who so much as attended a cultural event at a Chinese consulate would have to register with the federal government. Mr. Chiu’s “anti-Chinese communist party background” was used to buttress the false information, according to the McGill researchers.

Some Conservatives believe the disinformation campaign caused Mr. Chiu to lose the seat of Steveston-Richmond East (the new MP is a Liberal), though that’s impossible to prove conclusively.

What is indisputable is that there was a concerted effort, using a social-media platform beholden to Beijing, to discourage people from voting for a Canadian MP whose positions were unpopular with Beijing.

To date, the case has barely caused a ripple in Ottawa. That has to change. This should not be a partisan issue. The Trudeau government needs to let Parliament investigate what happened, and take steps to block foreign meddling in Canadian elections.

One very good place to start would be with the resurrection of Mr. Chiu’s foreign influence registry. It should become law, and soon. As the McGill researchers wrote, “disinformation campaigns and their potential to manipulate diaspora communities could generate waves that would drown Canada’s democracy.”

One has little faith that this government will even go so far as that foreign influence registry (who? us racists?), much less, say, welcome espionage prosecutions related to the PRC (none in Canada since 2013, that one just stayed–unlike the many cases still being brought and prosecuted by the US justice department). There is still no answer to the question raised at this post a month ago:

Did PM Trudeau Pay Heed to what Head of Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said about PRC Interference in Canada?

Sigh.

UPDATE: Canadian Security intelligence Service making waves where PM Trudeau’s government won’t–bit of rebellion against those politicians? Or government using CSIS to make points it’s still afraid to make itself?

Canada’s spy agency warns MPs to beware of influence operations from China

Canada’s spy agency for the first time is warning individual MPs and senators from all major parties about influence operations being carried out by China and other adversarial states.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS [website here]) 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.

John Townsend, a spokesperson for CSIS, told The Globe and Mail agency officials are briefing parliamentarians, telling them to beware of foreign influence and interference operations.

“CSIS actively investigates threats that are carried out in a clandestine or deceptive manner or involve a threat to any person,” Mr. Townsend said when asked about the briefings.

*Engineer accused of trying to leak Canadian government secrets to China no longer being prosecuted

*Canada joins allies in denouncing China for global Microsoft cyberattacks

“CSIS delivers these briefings in order to promote awareness of foreign interference and the actions of other hostile actors and to strengthen individual security practices and protect Canadians and their interests.”

Mr. Townsend declined to say whom CSIS has briefed, but a senior government official said on background that the spy agency has a list of MPs and senators it believes should be aware of Chinese influence operations.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said CSIS officials warned him in a briefing about subversive and coercive foreign interference operations that take place on Canadian soil, including efforts to influence MPs [read on]

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

10 thoughts on “Globe and Mail to PM Justin Trudeau Gov’t: Time to Get Real about Foreign Interference, esp. by PRC (note UPDATE)”

  1. Two from former Canadian ambassador to PRC David Mulroney:

    1/

    2/

    Mark Collins

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  2. MI5 on PRC’s interference in UK politics:

    ‘Chinese agent infiltrating Parliament, MI5 warns

    MI5 has issued a rare warning to MPs that a Chinese agent has infiltrated Parliament to interfere in UK politics.

    An alert from the security service said Christine Ching Kui Lee “established links” for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with current and aspiring MPs.

    She then gave donations to politicians, with funding coming from foreign nationals in China and Hong Kong.

    It comes after a “significant, long-running” investigation by MI5, Whitehall sources told the BBC.

    The security service said anyone contacted by Ms Lee should be “mindful of her affiliation” and its “remit to advance the CCP’s agenda”.

    Conservative MP and former party leader, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, brought up the alert in the Commons, confirming it had been emailed out to MPs by the Speaker.

    He said it was “a matter of grave concern”, calling for Ms Lee to be deported and demanding the government make a statement to the House.

    Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood also called for a statement in the Commons, adding: “This is the sort grey-zone interference we now anticipate and expect from China.

    “But the fact that it’s happened to this Parliament, there must be a sense of urgency from this government.”..’
    https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-59984380

    Mark Collins

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  3. Plus from the excellent Sam Cooper:

    Mark Collins

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  4. April 7:

    “…
    Conservative Senator Leo Housakos has tabled a bill in the Senate, S-237, that would require those acting on behalf of a foreign government or entities related to that government to register. This obligation would be triggered if they seek to influence public policy, legislation, regulations and government programs or if they want to set up meetings with public officeholders.

    Mr. Housakos said he believes that under such a law, former Quebec premier Jean Charest [now running for Conservative leader] would have been required to register for his work with the Chinese tech giant Huawei…”

    Ouch. Take that, comprador.

    Mark Collins

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