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'Decided by Canadians': Trudeau says Chinese interference failed to impact Canada elections

Canada's domestic spy agency recently said China "clandestinely and deceptively" interfered in the last two elections in 2019 and 2021, both won by Trudeau's Liberal Party. The Canadian PM said it was "improbable" that Beijing would choose one party over another.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Ottawa (Canada) Published on: April 11, 2024 14:51 IST
Canada, Justin Trudeau, Chinese interference, Canada elections
Image Source : REUTERS Canadian PM Justin Trudeau in a public hearing for an independent commission probing foreign interference in elections.

Ottawa: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday pushed back against criticism of failing to tackle foreign interference in Canada's elections, saying that China tried to meddle in the 2019 and 2021 polls but the results were decided by Canadians themselves. He further told the official probe that it was "improbable" that Beijing preferred one party over the other.

Trudeau provided his testimony for hours before a commission conducting a public inquiry into alleged foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 Canadian elections, as the PM asserted that the elections were "free and fair". The commission was set up by Trudeau last year under pressure from opposition legislators unhappy about China's possible meddling in the last two elections.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the country's domestic spy agency, recently concluded that China interfered in the last two elections, which were both won by Trudeau's Liberal Party. "We know that the PRC (Peoples' Republic of China) clandestinely and deceptively interfered in both the 2019 and 2021 elections," it told the official probe.

"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. 

What did Trudeau say?

Trudeau said that he had not received the intelligence report about Chinese officials in Canada expressing a preference in 2021 for a Liberal minority government due to the perception that minority governments would be more limited in enacting anti-China policies. "Nothing we have seen and heard despite, yes, attempts by foreign states to interfere, those elections held in their integrity. They were decided by Canadians," he said.

Trudeau also mentioned the "explosive nature of the media stories, stemming from unsubstantiated and uncorroborated intelligence shared by a leaker." He said, "There are also things that were flat-out wrong." The Canadian PM insisted that his government has always been committed to defending the rights and freedoms of the people.

While individual (Chinese) officials may well have expressed a preference or another, the impression we got and consistently would get is that ... it just would seem very improbable that the Chinese government itself would have a preference in the election," Trudeau said. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Canada said Trudeau "slandered" China during the hearing and that "China strongly deplores and resolutely opposes this".

"China has never had any interest in interfering in Canada's internal affairs," the spokesperson further said, noting that some politicians have attempted to target China in the public investigation on the elections.  China has so far denied its involvement in Canadian politics and said it has no interest in doing so.

India cleared of suspicions of meddling

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.

However, the panel of Canadian officials have denied any knowledge about India's involvement in Canada's elections. 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).

"I don't think there is any evidence against the Government of India using those tools in the campaign," a poll official told the probe panel. Earlier, rejecting the report staunchly, India stressed that it did not interfere in any of the elections held across the countries. The Ministry of External Affairs, in fact, alleged Ottawa of interfering in the internal matters of New Delhi.

Canada's investigation into foreign interference had heightened tensions in an already strained relationship between New Delhi and Ottawa, following Trudeau's bombshell allegations of India's involvement in the murder of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar on Canadian soil.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | India did not interfere in 2021 elections won by Justin Trudeau but China did: Canada

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