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China interfered in last two Canadian elections in 2019 and 2021: Intelligence agency

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) alleged that China "clandestinely and deceptively" interfered in the last two elections in 2019 and 2021. PM Trudeau's Liberal Party won both polls, and set up a commission on foreign interference after media reports.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Ottawa (Canada) Published on: April 09, 2024 22:51 IST
Canada, Canadian elections, chinese interference
Image Source : REUTERS (FILE) Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Ottawa: Canada's domestic spy agency concluded that China interfered in the last two elections, an official probe heard on Monday, marking the firmest evidence so far of suspected Chinese meddling in Canadian politics. This comes after a commission into foreign interference was set up by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau following pressure from opposition legislators unhappy about reports on China's possible role.

Trudeau's Liberal Party won both the elections, held in 2019 and 2021. The commission was shown a slide on Monday containing an extract of a February 2023 briefing from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). "We know that the PRC (Peoples' Republic of China) clandestinely and deceptively interfered in both the 2019 and 2021 elections," it said.

"In both cases, these FI (foreign interference) activities were pragmatic in nature and focused primarily on supporting those viewed to be either 'pro-PRC' or 'neutral' on issues of interest to the PRC government," it added. However, China has so far denied its involvement in Canadian politics. 

Allegations by Canada's opposition party

Erin O'Toole, who led the Conservatives during the 2021 campaign, alleged that Chinese interference cost his party up to nine seats but added it had not changed the course of the election. "State actors are able to conduct foreign interference successfully in Canada because there are few legal or political consequences. FI is therefore low-risk and high-reward," said the CSIS assessment.

Intelligence analysts and the Conservatives say Trudeau's government has not done enough to combat Chinese interference. The Conservatives, who generally take a harder line on China than the Liberals, campaigned in 2021 on a platform that condemned Beijing's treatment of its Uyghur minority and vowed to ban Chinese mobile giant Huawei from the 5G network.

A legislator for the left-leaning minority New Democrats told the inquiry that once she started criticising Beijing's Hong Kong policy, invitations to events held by the politically influential ethnic Chinese community started to dry up. Meanwhile, Trudeau is due to testify to the commission on foreign interference on Wednesday. 

Last year, Canada said a Conservative legislator with family in Hong Kong had been targeted in an online disinformation operation, and kicked out a senior Chinese diplomat. Canada is home to around 1.7 million people of Chinese descent, just under 5 per cent of the total population.

Canada identified India as a 'potential threat'

In February, a report by Global News stated that  India was identified as a 'potential threat' to Canada's democratic processes, along with China, according to the declassified top-secret briefing report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). The federal commission has signalled its intention to probe any role India might have played in influencing the two ballots.

The report added to already strained relations between India and Canada following Trudeau's explosive allegations about India's suspected involvement in the killing of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was gunned down outside his residence in Surrey, British Columbia. India denied the allegation as absurd and politically motivated while demanding Ottawa to provide evidence to substantiate its claims.

Responding to the report, the Ministry of External Affairs strongly rejected Canada's allegations of New Delhi interfering in their elections, saying that it was Ottawa that was interfering in India's internal affairs. "We have seen media reports, Canadian Commission inquiring into foreign interferences...we strongly reject such baseless allegations of Indian interference in Canadian elections, it is not govt of India's policy to interfere in the democratic process of other countries, in fact, quite on the reverse it is Canada, who has been interfering in our internal affairs," said MEA spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal.

(with inputs from Reuters)

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