Why Justin Trudeau is facing calls for a public inquiry

  • Written by Nadine Youssef
  • BBC News, Toronto

photo caption,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he did not believe the interference effort affected the results of the last federal election, where he was re-elected.

In recent weeks, the Canadian media has released a steady drip of reports, based on leaked intelligence, of detailed allegations of Chinese interference in the country’s recent federal elections in 2019 and 2021 — the latest Western country to sound the alarm about foreign election concerns. confusion.

Chinese officials denied any interference, calling the allegations “unfounded and defamatory” in a statement to the BBC.

The effort is 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 looking into the allegations, which have strained already difficult diplomatic relations between the two countries.

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

What are the allegations?

The allegations stem from leaked intelligence reports, alleging that diplomats and agents from Beijing in Canada tried to sway the election results in favor of the Liberals.

According to a series of reports in the Globe and Mail and Global News, intelligence sources are concerned that the Chinese Communist Party has interfered by pressuring its consulates in Canada to support some of the candidates.

The main allegations in the reports include:

China’s state-run news agency Xinhua reported this week that on the sidelines of the G-20 foreign ministers’ meeting in New Delhi, Chen Gang dismissed media reports as “rumors” and “propaganda” while speaking with his Canadian counterpart Melanie Jolie.

In a statement, Jolie said she said Canada would not tolerate any form of interference in the country’s internal affairs.

What was the response?

The constant scattering of stories with definitive accounts of apparent meddling has unsettled Canadian politics, raising questions about what Trudeau and his party knew about China’s meddling — and when.

Trudeau said he believes there are “many wrongs” in what has been reported, but said there are “continued efforts” by China and other countries to interfere with Canadian democracy.

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

The federal opposition parties – the New Democrats and the Conservatives – are pushing for an “independent and public” investigation into the accounts.

Their calls were echoed by Canada’s former chief election official Jean-Pierre Kingsley and Richard Faden, former director of Canada’s Security Intelligence Service, or CSIS.

Mr Faden told the BBC he believed an investigation was needed to determine what Canada could do in the future to prevent similar attempts at interference.

“This will shed some light on the extent of the problem at the constituency level, because we didn’t have a great deal of information about that,” he added.

“The public will not be the wiser about the details,” said intelligence and security expert Wesley Wark.

And while the public deserves to know about threats to national security, he worries that “widespread suggestions” that members of any expatriate community are disloyal to Canada or subject to foreign campaigns may be harmful.

What do we know about foreign intervention in Canada?

Fears of foreign interference in Canadian affairs are not new.

In 2021, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said it continues to “monitor” steady, and in some cases increasing, foreign interference, and warned that this type of interference “can undermine trust and threaten the integrity of our democratic institutions.”

Their public report cited cyberattacks, disinformation and corrupt finance as some of the ways in which this type of interference occurs.

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

She added that the government was taking “concrete” steps to address the issue, and that Canadians should be confident that the recent federal election was “fair and legitimate”.

On Wednesday, a federal public report came to a similar conclusion — that efforts to interfere in the 2021 federal election did not affect the results.

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