Why Justin Trudeau is facing calls for a public inquiry

  • By Nadine Yousif
  • BBC News, Toronto


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he does not believe the interference effort affected the outcome of the last two federal elections, in which he was re-elected

In recent weeks, Canadian media outlets have released a steady trickle of reports, based on leaked intelligence, detailing allegations of Chinese interference in the country’s last two federal elections in 2019 and 2021 — the latest Western nation to sound the alarm over concerns about foreign election meddling.

Chinese officials have denied any involvement, calling the allegations “purely baseless and defamatory” in a statement to the BBC.

The efforts are not believed to have changed the outcome of either general election, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under pressure to launch a national public inquiry into the allegations, which have strained already challenging diplomatic relations between the two countries.

On Thursday, the federal election watchdog launched an investigation into the allegations.

What are the claims?

The allegations stem from leaked intelligence reports, which allege that Beijing diplomats and proxies in Canada attempted to sway the election results in favor of the Liberals.

According to multiple reports in the Globe and Mail and Global News, intelligence sources are concerned that China’s Communist Party is interfering by pressuring consulates in Canada to support certain candidates.

The main allegations in the reports include:

Conservative politicians have publicly said they were aware of interference in the 2021 race, which had flagged concerns to officials, and believe it had cost them more seats — but not enough to change the election result, which Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals won by a lead of 41 seats. .

China’s state news agency Xinhua reported this week that on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in New Delhi, Qin Gang dismissed the media reports as “rumors” and “hype” while speaking with his Canadian counterpart Melanie Joly.

Joly said in a statement that she said Canada will not tolerate any form of interference in the country’s internal affairs.

What has been the response?

The steady trickle of stories with specific accounts of apparent meddling has weakened Canadian politics, raising questions about what Mr. Trudeau and his party knew about China’s meddling — and when.

Trudeau said he believes there are “a lot of inaccuracies” in what has been reported, but said there are “ongoing efforts” by China and other countries to disrupt Canada’s democracy.

He said he would leave it to a House of Commons committee to look into the matter, and said he was satisfied with an ongoing parliamentary inquiry that began in November.

Federal opposition parties – the New Democrats and the Conservatives – are pushing for an “independent and public” review of the accounts.

Their calls have been echoed by Canada’s former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley and Richard Fadden, the former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, or CSIS.

Fadden told the BBC he believes an inquiry is needed to find out what Canada can do in the future to prevent similar attempts at interference.

“It would shed some light on how extensive the problem is at the constituency level, because we haven’t had much information on that,” he added.

Others have called it a “bad idea” because much of the information will be kept behind the veil, by law, of highly classified intelligence documents.

“The public would be none the wiser for the details,” said intelligence and security expert Wesley Wark.

And while the public deserves to know about national security threats, he worried that “broad suggestions” that members of any diaspora community are disloyal to Canada or vulnerable to foreign campaigns could be harmful.

What do we know about foreign interference in Canada?

Concerns about foreign actors meddling in Canadian affairs are not new.

In 2021, CSIS said it continues to “observe steady, and in some cases increasing” foreign interference, warning that this type of interference “can erode trust and threaten the integrity of our democratic institutions”.

Their public report cited cyber attacks, disinformation and corrupt financing as some of the ways this type of interference occurs.

In testimony before the parliamentary committee investigating China’s interference this week, Trudeau’s national security adviser, Jody Thomas, said there were “attempts” by Beijing to interfere in both elections and that the prime minister had been briefed on the intelligence.

She added that the government is taking “concrete” steps to address the problem and that Canadians should be assured that the last two federal elections were “fair and legitimate”.

On Wednesday, a federal public report reached a similar conclusion – that attempts to interfere in the 2021 federal election did not affect the results.

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