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Did Justin Trudeau cover up the Chinese spy scandal? The Liberal Party has failed to protect Canada

China is playing the long game. Wu Hong/AFP/Getty Images

China is playing the long game. Wu Hong/AFP/Getty Images


June 27, 2024   7 mins

Did the Chinese Communist Party interfere in the past two Canadian elections? A fantastic series of leaks from Canada’s Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) over the winter of 2022/23 suggests so. The leaks point to a vast CCP campaign of political interference that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government allegedly covered up. It has been a major scandal: a Liberal MP named Han Dong was forced to resign from his party in the aftermath, and reports suggest that a “network” of two dozen candidates and staffers were affected.

The saga isn’t over yet. David Johnston, a “special rapporteur” appointed by Trudeau to investigate the matter in March 2023, quit just three months later, blaming a “highly partisan atmosphere around my appointment and work”. Yet he was hardly the ideal candidate, coming across as a pal of both Trudeau and the CCP. Social media abounded with pictures of him beaming next to Chinese officials including Xi Jinping, who he’d met more than once while serving as the late Queen’s representative to Canada. Trudeau, meanwhile, described Johnston as a “family friend”.

China’s interference in Canadian politics has allegedly taken many forms. There are accusations of officials bussing in Chinese students to vote in Liberal Party nominations and whispers of covert donations, compromised staffers and the intimidation of political candidates and activists.

Before his resignation in June, Johnston issued a lengthy paper addressing the principal allegations. This included a quietly damning verdict on Han Dong: “Irregularities were observed with Mr Dong’s nomination in 2019, and there is well-grounded suspicion that the irregularities were tied to the PRC Consulate in Toronto, with whom Mr. Dong maintains relationships.” However, Johnston’s paper contained conceptual errors, downplayed certain claims and urged against a public inquiry.

For months afterwards, Trudeau appeared keen to avoid an inquiry, while his opponents pressured him to go ahead. Michael Chong, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, became a prominent voice in favour. For Chong, the issue was personal: in 2021, the CCP had launched a campaign targeting his family in Hong Kong after he had spoken out about ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang. Chong claimed that the CSIS withheld information from him about the CCP campaign, and that Trudeau also knew about it but did nothing to help. Trudeau, however, insists that he didn’t find out about it until early 2023 when it was leaked to the press. Neither version of the story is very encouraging.

In September 2023, Trudeau finally announced the “Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions”. Its public hearings began in January 2024, accompanied by classified in camera interviews and disclosures. The focus so far has been on what was known by whom and when, and why information was or was not passed on or otherwise acted upon. Looming over Trudeau is a damning insinuation: that concerns about CCP activity dissipated in a mist of procedure because that activity benefitted the Liberals.

The inquiry has not gone smoothly. In February, two diaspora groups withdrew from the process. One, Canadian Friends of Hong Kong, which claims to have been targeted by the CCP, pulled out to protest the role that three Canadian politicians were to play in the inquiry: Han Dong, former provincial cabinet minister Michael Chan, and a controversial senator, Yuen Pau Woo. The group stated that giving these figures a chance to cross-examine witnesses and access non-public evidence presented a security threat and gave them a platform for propaganda.

It is, indeed, remarkable that Han Dong has been given a privileged role in the inquiry. This is a man accused of benefitting from the CCP “coercing” busloads of private Chinese high-school students into voting for him in 2019. (Liberal nominations do not exclude those who are not Canadian citizens and allow people as young as 14 to vote.) Chan, too, is open about his “close relationships” with Chinese diplomats. Leaked CSIS intel accuses him of meeting with Chinese intelligence and orchestrating Dong’s problematic nomination. In neither case is any criminal behaviour alleged.

This surreal situation raises an important question: whose responsibility is it to prevent foreign interference? To answer it, Canadians need to consider what should count as criminal conduct in a democracy where nearly a quarter of the population was born abroad, and many retain ties with foreign governments.

The case of Kenny Chiu illustrates the delicacy of this question. From 2019 to 2021, Chiu served as MP for Steveston-Richmond East, a swing seat where more than half of the population claim East Asian ancestry. Many were born in China and Hong Kong. In the lead up to and during the 2021 election, Chiu put forward proposals for a foreign influence registry, which if implemented might have forced groups working with the CCP to publicly declare their ties. Chiu’s bill raised hairs in Beijing. On WeChat, a social media network controlled by the Chinese government, Chiu was painted as an “anti-Chinese” fanatic who wanted to force Chinese Canadians to register as foreign agents or else face deportation. His goal, according to CCP propaganda, was to destroy Canada’s relationship with China.

When Chiu first raised concerns about this online crusade against him — alongside the then-Conservative leader Erin O’Toole — he was fobbed off by the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) body, which withheld information supporting his case. SITE determined that the propaganda wasn’t significant enough to publicise, nor the evidence it was “state-directed” clear enough. Yet an intelligence document tabled at the inquiry this year came to a different conclusion. It claimed that the timing and language of the campaign, as well as the fact that the outlets involved had partnerships with Chinese state media, “all suggest that these efforts were orchestrated or directed by the PRC”.

If this was the case, why did SITE belittle the issue? Such revelations expose the inadequacy of Canada’s pre-leak anti-interference systems, which  operated on the basis that there is an acceptable level of interference that is determined privately in government. The existence of foreign interference campaigns below this level should not be communicated to victim candidates or the opposition, let alone to the public. The decision appears to have been that WeChat should be given the benefit of the doubt and only deemed to be involved in manipulation if very high evidentiary thresholds could be met. But who could realistically expect to receive this sort of evidence? This lies solely in the hands of the China-based CCP members running WeChat, who have vowed to “keep the Party’s secrets” and who face imprisonment should they break their oath. We are not going to get hold of it.

Meanwhile, there is strong experimental evidence that WeChat’s CCP-directed censorship and manipulation systems operate for users abroad. This was ignored or treated as insignificant in Canada, which is peculiar considering that WeChat is used by roughly one million Canadian voters.

The fate of Han Dong is no less bewildering. Sam Cooper, an investigative journalist who covers foreign interference in Canada, points to a series of meetings in 2019 between Canadian spies and Trudeau’s national security advisor. Officials have since told the inquiry that these meetings resulted in reports on Han Dong being repeatedly altered and not shared as widely or as quickly within government as they should have been. CSIS’s head was recalled to the inquiry because of a lack of clarity about the matter. Having led on its reporting and as a direct recipient of CSIS leaks, Cooper is now deep in the weeds of the scandal. He believes there may be a Watergate-scale coverup at play here.

“He believes there may be a Watergate-scale coverup at play here.”

Yet the evolution of CSIS briefings might reflect incompetence more than conspiracy. It could be that Canadian spies simply aren’t up to the task and are either making mistakes or failing to grasp the precise contours of the situation. This would fit patterns seen in other Western countries, where spooks have been struggling to follow the CCP’s influence networks. Britain’s leading spies are not alone in admitting they are playing catch-up in the fight against CCP interference and espionage.

When asked last year whether he was told about the allegations surrounding Han Dong before the 2019 election, Trudeau’s answer smacked of emotional manipulation. “There are 1.7 million Canadians who proudly trace their origin back to China,” he said. “Those Canadians should always be welcomed as full Canadians and encouraged to stand for office and […] We are extraordinarily lucky to have a member of parliament like Han Dong in our midst.” Eventually, he got to his point: “It is not up to unelected security officials to dictate who can or cannot run.”

Trudeau was careful not to make the same mistake when he faced the inquiry this April. Instead, he admitted that he had been told about Dong before the 2019 election, and that he had decided to keep Dong in place, with an eye on revisiting the matter after the election. But he never did. The Initial Report released in May of this year states that, even after interviews with Trudeau and his officials, “the specifics of any follow-up are at this point unclear, and I am not certain what steps were taken”. It is another quietly damning comment.

Throughout this mess, senior Liberals have downplayed the gravity of the CCP’s interference. As well as distracting from serious issues — raised most vociferously by Chinese Canadians — with oblique references to racism, they have been obsessive in underlining that the elections were “free and fair” overall. This seems to be an attempt to conjure up fears about a wave of Trump-style election denialism. But this is to pretend that swathes of the population have decided that CCP puppetry actually swung the election. As all Canadians who have followed this story know, that is not the point.

A second wave of hearings are set to take place in the autumn, but the inquiry will not spell the end of the matter. Earlier this month, a 90-page report by the Canadian parliament’s National Security and Intelligence Committee (NSICOP) accused unnamed Canadian parliamentarians of “witting or semi-witting” participation in foreign interference, including attempts to influence parliamentary business and “wilful blindness” in the acceptance of funds. The report names China and India as the main perpetrators, saying of the former: “the PRC believes that its relationship with some members of Parliament rests on a quid pro quo that any member’s engagement with the PRC will result in the PRC mobilising its network in the member’s favour.” The Conservatives are calling for the names of these MPs to be published, while Canada’s public broadcaster has covered this latest phase of the scandal with reference to potential “treason”. Meanwhile, both NSICOP and the public inquiry’s commissioner continue to complain that Trudeau’s cabinet is withholding information from them — lending some credence to the suspicions of Cooper and others that the Liberal party is engaged in a coverup.

For anyone remotely versed in the CCP’s strategic framework, the idea that it should seek to lay down a bridgehead abroad is nothing new. One CCP handbook that I have been reading was printed 10 years ago. It states quite plainly the CCP’s intent to turn Chinese diasporic groups into a “new force for unifying the ancestor-land and rejuvenating China”. This is a reference to the CCP’s hopes for territorial expansion in Taiwan, the South China Sea and elsewhere, which will require compliance from Western powers. The CCP hopes that ethnic Chinese people in countries such as Canada will help secure that compliance.

Most of the diaspora want nothing to do with Xi’s dictatorship, but the CCP’s financial clout and its use of intimidation, censorship and aggressive espionage mean that Chinese Canadians need proper support from governments and civil society. This is where Canada’s Liberals have clearly failed. Wherever this scandal leads, the CCP’s goals are clear, and it is in this fight for the long haul. Multicultural democracies must be too.


Sam Dunning is a writer and researcher who serves as director of UK-China Transparency, a charity that promotes education about ties between the UK and China.

 

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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
20 days ago

Liberal nominations do not exclude those who are not Canadian citizens and allow people as young as 14 to vote.
That explains a lot.

Fred D. Fulton
Fred D. Fulton
17 days ago

Yep, that voting process was a demeaning joke, perpetrated upon trusting Canadians by malign CCP agents. The voters were essentially anonymous pay-for-players; who knows how many times each of them voted. (Canada turned a blind eye, but woe betide any racist colonialist pigs who might question any of it)

Thomas K.
Thomas K.
20 days ago

I’m a proud Canadian, which makes me all the more disgusted by what my country has become. I used to live in Chong’s riding, and he is an upstanding politician who we have trusted to represent us for decades, and this is how our government treats him? Chinese Canadians came here because they were promised safety from their persecutors, and we just turned around and rolled out the red carpet for those same tyrants.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
19 days ago
Reply to  Thomas K.

The world needs more of Canada. Like say thirteen of them.

Thomas K.
Thomas K.
18 days ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

Do you mean what Canada was, or what it’s become? The former I’d agree with wholeheartedly… I don’t think I’m allowed to say what I’d think of the latter. Too many expletives.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
18 days ago
Reply to  Thomas K.

The idea of Canada is a great thing. Unfortunately federal politicians realized they could tax jurisdictions they don’t need votes in and buy votes where they do. Currently the separation is between commodity producing and commodity consuming areas. Most drastically affected between Laurentide Canada and western Canada. Smaller federal areas would allow the good aspects to come to the fore. Or they could just developed a better relationship with the constitution as written. Not going to happen with the current oligarchy.

Fred D. Fulton
Fred D. Fulton
17 days ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

Gotta sat Brett, I can’t understand your “thirteen of them” comment. 13 what? Provinces plus Territories? Meaning? That aside, I also disagree with your comment about “our” (Cdn) constitution. Our constitution is weakly written, not nearly as strong of a bulwark against oppressive rights-denying outcomes as is, say, that of our American neighbours. Re Covid lockdown for example, our courts sided in favour of oppressive Government edicts, citing the greater good and broad ill-defined and convenient ‘peaceful’ outcomes.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
16 days ago
Reply to  Fred D. Fulton

Yes, Canada is to large for the likes of the current fed govt. The constitution separates the lanes effectively. Unfortunately when you have drunk drivers in Ottawa and they are appointing judges who do their bidding, you get a lot of head on accidents.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
16 days ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

Canada should devolve.

Bernard Brothman
Bernard Brothman
20 days ago

Now it makes more sense why there is so much red in the Canadian flag.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
20 days ago

Excellent overview of the entire sordid affair. It’s too bad Canadian journalists have done such a bad job covering this. The National Security and Intelligence Committee is telling us that some MPs have engaged in pretty scummy behaviour, yet it won’t release the names of those MPs. So we have to guess and speculate if our MP is a potential traitor.

Kevan Hudson
Kevan Hudson
19 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Canadians need to follow Sam Cooper on Substack.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
18 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

There is no journalism in Canada. The government owns the media.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
17 days ago

Literally.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross
17 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Rather than guess, maybe we could start with the idea that someone born in China, with a name like ‘Han Dong’, might be worthy of investigation in regard to Chinese espionage.

Walter
Walter
19 days ago

Western countries need to lower their threshold for conflict to slightly above zero or China will continue to operate freely and subvert anything they wish. Global cooperation never was, what western liberals see as attempts at cooperation is seen by Chinese authorities as ways to gain entrance, footholds, information and opportunities to subvert.
The retaliation surrounding the princess of Huawei should have been treated as an act of war, Chinese trade policy, cultural exchanges and scientific ties are continuing offensive operations. We are already at war and the longer we deny it the more virtual and physical territory the CCP will gain. We need to stop de-escalation and trying to bridge gaps, the side that is always de-escalating is responsive and lets the opponent off the hook.
It goes without saying that a liberal of the Trudeau-type is completely inadequate in this role. Their worldview is distorted by political correctness, guilt and dislike of their own. A near perfect target to subvert.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
19 days ago
Reply to  Walter

Totally disagree, Trudeau is the perfect globalist.

Rich, self serving and zero morals. I wouldn’t want to be one of his friends.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
17 days ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

He’s rather like his real father.

Matthew Jones
Matthew Jones
19 days ago

A quarter of the population foreign born. With that much diversity in the population, surely Canada can’t last more than a century more before cultural, educational and legal institutions, and probably the name of the nation, are changed to represent what the country is rather than what it used to be.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
19 days ago
Reply to  Matthew Jones

Looks like Canada’s version of the UK’s Islamification.

Kevan Hudson
Kevan Hudson
19 days ago
Reply to  Matthew Jones

That is the goal of the neoliberals or Woke Left in Canada: to destroy our culture. To give just one example among many: for New Year’s Eve 2023/2024 across Canada there were no major city led celebrations. Meanwhile, my friends in places like Mainland China, South Korea and Vietnam had state sponsored fireworks and events on December 31st.
At least it looks like no one will cancel Canada Day (July 1st) this year. I am an old school leftist that loves public celebrations (Canada Day, Christmas, Halloween).

ChilblainEdwardOlmos
ChilblainEdwardOlmos
17 days ago
Reply to  Kevan Hudson

Neoliberalism is an economic philosophy. “Free” Trade, Austerity, Deregulation, Privatization,Offshoring Labor, in a world Globalist. Therefore I have no idea what you’re on about when you use the term as interchangeable with “Woke Left”.

Kevan Hudson
Kevan Hudson
14 days ago

Have to agree that my conflation of the two was not good.
Should have said that liberals of the last 20 years primarily support the woke agenda.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
17 days ago
Reply to  Kevan Hudson

Feeling qualms at last? It’s old lefties like you who led Canada down this path to Castroite tyranny.

Kevan Hudson
Kevan Hudson
14 days ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

lol
Since I only returned to Canada in 2019 after living overseas for almost two decades my slice of blame is very marginal. Never voted for the Liberals, and I have disliked the No Difference Party (NDP) for decades.
And I love many aspects of Canadian culture such as sports and the Nanaimo Bar.

Arthur King
Arthur King
19 days ago
Reply to  Matthew Jones

Canada is finished. Iam one of the 20% in Western Canada who favor annexation with the USA.

Thomas K.
Thomas K.
18 days ago
Reply to  Matthew Jones

That sounds a hell of a lot like that ‘C’ word that rhymes with bolonialism that we’re all told how evil we are because our ancestors did it back in the day…

Phil Gurski
Phil Gurski
19 days ago

good piece but I found this allegation unfounded: “Yet the evolution of CSIS briefings might reflect incompetence more than conspiracy. It could be that Canadian spies simply aren’t up to the task and are either making mistakes or failing to grasp the precise contours of the situation.” Full disclosure: I worked at CSIS for 15 yrs, albeit in counter terrorism, not China. I find this statement akin to the tendency by Justin Trudeau to throw his spies under the bus. Why would the author continue this trend? My colleagues are not the issue: we have been warning of this for 20 yrs. It is the gvt that has dropped the ball, repeatedly, not the spooks.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
19 days ago

This reads far less like Chinese meddling and far more like the Liberal Party’s active engagement of certain Chinese assets – officials bussing in Chinese students to vote in Liberal Party nominations and whispers of covert donations, compromised staffers and the intimidation of political candidates and activists.”
In the US, many of us are all too aware of compromised Bidens, I mean staffers, and the various other shady tactics undertaken by the same Dem apparatchiks who spent four years bleating about Russian collusion with the GOP.

Dave Canuck
Dave Canuck
19 days ago

It’s always been about the trading relationship, that’s why they had trade missions to China on a regular basis to suck up new business. It’s always been about money and profits. Canada imports cheap goods, and exports raw materials and energy, etc. It’s what business and the elites want. No one will dictate to China what to do, they are a totalitarian regime and will never be democratic, the people want stability and don’t want the chaos that exists in the west with all the divisions. There is oppression of some minorities, but 92% are Han Chinese and support the regime. Criticism by westerners has no impact on their decisions. There are 15 provinces in China that have a larger population than Canada, Canada is just a little sideshow for China. They will do business on their terms.

Thomas K.
Thomas K.
18 days ago
Reply to  Dave Canuck

And none of it needed to be this way. I’d rather be poor than being forced to lick their boots clean after stamping on my country’s history and culture.

Steven Targett
Steven Targett
19 days ago

Trudeau is no democrat and certainly no liberal. The man is and always has been a multi faced snake living off his father’s name. All too many Canadians lapped it up but are now starting to see the true man behind the facade and it’s not pretty.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
17 days ago
Reply to  Steven Targett

His father’s name was Fidel Castro. Where ya been?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
19 days ago

Hmm, it would be nice if this was due to incompetence..but covid showed us a “liberal elite” (usually wef trained) in cohoots with the ccp on all important matters. Western elites are allied ( formally ( through UN bodies usually) and informally with the Chinese elites ( ccp) against the general public. Climate change policy , immigration policy , hate speech laws, covid policy and related cover up. Its the elites versus the general public and not the west vs china

R Wright
R Wright
17 days ago

Britain can learn from this disaster. Never let foreigners near the apparatus of government or national security. Their sectarianism almost inevitably creeps in to their actions.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
17 days ago

If China can buy off Joe Biden and his family, Canada should be a piece of cake.

Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
16 days ago

This collusion with the CCP shouldn’t be surprising, given Mr. Trudeau is on record as saying: “There is a level of admiration I actually have for China because their basic dictatorship is allowing them to actually turn their economy around on a dime and say we need to go green, we need to start, you know, investing in solar.”
He is right. Central planning is much easier in a totalitarian state.