Canadian Senator promised to support members in CCP’s United Front: Audio Tapes

Posted By December 28, 2023 No Comments

The Bureau’s exclusive investigation finds intelligence sources and documents implicate two Canadian cabinet ministers in Chinese election interference networks

Senator Yuen Pau Woo (on the right) stands with Canada Committee 100 Society leader DING Guo.

(Written by Sam Cooper. Originally published here in The Bureau, republished with permission.)

In a private briefing in May 2020, Senator Yuen Pau Woo promised to shield members of Beijing’s “United Front” from critical scrutiny in Canada for taking pro-China stances on controversial issues such as the treatment of Uyghurs.

Woo’s pledges of support for United Front organizations are captured in recordings of his meeting with Canada Committee 100 Society, a Vancouver group with ties to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

The CPPCC is the Chinese Communist Party’s basic structure for united front influence operations according to a declassified Central Intelligence Agency document and recent U.S. government testimony on China’s political interference networks.

Woo’s private statements call into question his public intervener role in Ottawa’s upcoming Foreign Interference Commission, according to experts that analyzed his comments. Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue has granted Woo’s late application to make legal arguments in the hearing.

But analysts experienced in Chinese interference say the Senator — who was appointed by Justin Trudeau in 2016 — is legitimizing the United Front’s expanding networks of influence, which facilitated Beijing’s federal election interference in 2019, according to leaked CSIS records that triggered the Commission.

The stakes surrounding the Commission’s outcome and Woo’s intervener status are of serious consequence due to the nature of CSIS’s investigations, which accuse United Front community leaders in Canada of being Chinese Communist Party proxies that recruit and channel support to Beijing’s preferred candidates.

For example, according to three national security sources, an elite politician hand-picked by Justin Trudeau, Liberal cabinet minister Mary Ng, was identified in CSIS investigations as one of 11 Toronto-area candidates clandestinely supported by Chinese Consulate and United Front influence networks in the 2019 election.

These national security whistleblowers asked not to be identified because of ongoing investigations.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office and International Trade Minister Mary Ng have not responded to The Bureau’s questions for this story.

While CSIS’s election investigations haven’t been tested in court, recent legal decisions have affirmed the United Front is active in recruitment and grooming of Beijing’s preferred candidates in Canada.

According to a July 2023 Canadian immigration ruling, over the past 10 years President Xi Jinping has massively increased manpower for Beijing’s United Front Work Department and tasked its networks to influence “overseas Chinese communities, foreign governments, and other actors to take actions or adopt positions supportive of Beijing’s preferred policies.”

The Bureau obtained recordings of Senator Woo’s May 2020 meeting from a Chinese Canadian that believes the private briefing raises national security concerns.

Charles Burton, a fluent Mandarin speaker and former Canadian diplomat, analyzed Woo’s recorded statements and called them shocking.

“Senator Woo’s briefing to Canada Committee 100 Society effectively enables the legitimacy of agencies of the Chinese Communist Party in our country,” Burton said. “This does call into question Senator Woo’s intervener status in the Inquiry.”

The Bureau also provided the tape-recorded evidence to CSIS and asked the Service to comment on whether the statements are relevant to Woo’s intervener status in the Interference Commission.

“Individuals purposefully aligning themselves with United Front Work Department (UFWD) designated organizations should understand its ongoing actions targeting members of Canadian communities with harassment, manipulation or intimidation,” spokesman Eric Balsam wrote, in a statement that didn’t name Senator Woo. “The PRC uses its UFWD in Canada and around the world to stifle criticism and manipulate Canadian communities. These activities constitute a threat to Canada’s sovereignty and to the safety of Canadians.”

“I am fighting very hard”

Senator Woo didn’t respond to detailed questions on his recorded statements, but said: “I suggest you submit to the inquiry any new information you have so that Judge Hogue can give it a critical assessment.”

The Bureau forwarded audio and visual evidence of Woo’s meeting to the Commission and asked whether the Senator’s promise to support Canadian members of Beijing’s United Front should impact his power to make legal arguments in the Commission.

“Thank you for the information you have provided to the Commission,” spokesman Michael Tansey said. “Much like judges do not comment on particular cases before them, the Commission will not comment further on its decisions.”

The Bureau’s review of the 47-minute recording of Woo’s briefing for the Canada Committee 100 Society shows members believe some Chinese community leaders faced unfounded allegations surrounding their shipping medical masks to and from China during the Covid-19 pandemic, and they asked Woo how they could withstand being subjected to a sort of loyalty test by Canadian officials.

”I’m very worried that the mainstream in Canada, including a lot of my friends, political leaders, and business leaders and media leaders, are falling into a very dangerous trend, what I call a litmus test,” Woo told the group.

“For example, your views in Hong Kong, your views on Tibet, your views on Uyghurs, your views on South China Sea, whether you belong to an organization that is officially part of the United Front. You know, many organizations are listed as part of a United Front list of organizations. And the fact that you are simply associated with one, is often used as a litmus test.”

While Woo doesn’t expand on what he means by views on Tibet, Hong Kong, Uyghurs or the South China Sea, these are all predominant focuses of Beijing’s united front influence, according to a November 2023 U.S. Congressional memo called “United Front 101.”

“United front work is a unique blend of engagement, influence activities, and intelligence operations that the Chinese Communist Party uses to shape its political environment, including to influence other countries’ policy toward the PRC,” that memo says.

On a second occasion in the May 2020 meeting, Woo says “whether you belong to an organization, that happens to be listed as a United Front organization, should not be a litmus test.”

“I am fighting very hard,” against this type of criticism, Woo says.

Asked by a group member to clarify further, Woo asserts no one should “assume, that the organization is an agent of the Chinese state, or is by definition disloyal, to Canada, just because it happens to be recognized by the Chinese government, or listed as a Tongyi Zhanxian 统一战线 [United Front] organization.”

Parsing this particular answer, Charles Burton said “the Senator evidently feigns that he is unclear on the intent of United Front astroturfed organizations.”

“A very troubling purpose of these institutions is to evoke divided loyalties in Chinese Canadians by manipulation and deception,” Burton said.

He added that intelligence shows the leadership of United Front “compatriot” groups in Canada is vetted by United Front Work Department officials in Beijing, and Canadian United Front groups are involved in “the police stations and proxy organizations that enable interference in our elections, and other democratic processes.”

Cabinet Ministers allegedly implicated

According to Commissioner Hogue’s decision, Senator Woo argues he is involved in debates over whether Canada should implement a foreign registry, Woo can provide analysis on whether election interference occurred, and is working with Chinese community groups who are “concerned about the stigmatizing consequences of unfounded allegations of foreign interference.”

“I agree that Senator Woo has some direct and substantial interest in the subject matter of the Inquiry and that he will likely make necessary contributions to the Commission’s work,” Hogue decided.

Hogue’s mandate is to examine whether election interference in fact did occur in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, as reported in Canadian media investigations.

The Bureau has reviewed a number of relevant Canadian intelligence documents that Hogue could access, including a January 2022 Privy Council Office “Special Report” that boils down and effectively validates core allegations gleaned from numerous CSIS investigations into China’s United Front election interference cells in Toronto.

The Special Report — a sort of national security recommendation document for Trudeau and his cabinet — concludes Beijing’s pervasive interference in Canadian politics escalated from 2015 when President Xi promoted the united front in Chinese Communist Party operations abroad.

The document asserts that a “clandestine network of PRC linked individuals” worked in loose coordination to “covertly advance PRC interests related to the 2019 Federal Election in Canada.”

The report’s most consequential allegation states “a large clandestine transfer of funds earmarked for the Federal Election from the PRC Consulate in Toronto was transferred” into the 2019 election influence network, which included at least 11 federal candidates and 13 campaign staff.

An earlier Privy Council intelligence brief reviewed by The Bureau — which Commissioner Hogue also has access to — connects the United Front to this clandestine Chinese funding in the Greater Toronto Area.

“Investigations into activities linked to the Canadian federal election in 2019, reveal an active foreign interference (FI) network in GTA,” the Feb. 21, 2020 Privy Council brief says. “This network involves the Chinese consulate, local community leaders, Canadian politicians, and their staff.”

This intelligence brief continues to explain that China gleaned important political information from its 2019 election interference.

“Co-opted staff of targeted politicians provide advice on China-related issues and community leaders facilitate the clandestine transfer of funds and recruit potential targets,” it says. “The FI networks in the GTA implicate at least 11 candidates in the 2019 election; some are likely unaware of these influence efforts while others have willingly cooperated with threat activity.”

Commissioner Hogue has access to the unredacted version of this document.

Explaining the role of Beijing’s United Front Work Department in the Toronto Consulate influence networks, the February 2020 Privy Council document says: “Besides funding, the UFWD is also likely to offer candidates logistical support, favourable media coverage, and endorsements.”

The Bureau confirmed from three sources that Mary Ng is assessed by CSIS to be unwittingly implicated in the 2019 election interference network that allegedly included at least 11 of China’s preferred candidates in Toronto.

Minister Ng is a member of Trudeau’s inner circle who rose swiftly in his government, first serving as a senior aide in Trudeau’s office before stepping up to replace Liberal MP John McCallum in a 2017 by-election in Markham, a coveted riding for federal Liberals with a large demographic of voters from Hong Kong and China.

In 2018 Trudeau promoted Mary Ng to his cabinet.

Two national security sources said a specific concern for CSIS was that Mary Ng’s staff was allegedly privately meeting with a Toronto Consulate diplomat to consult on China-related issues.

That diplomat, Wei ZHAO, has been assessed by CSIS as a “confirmed intelligence actor” according to one source.

“We believe Wei ZHAO worked with political staffers to provide information on the meetings of elected officials and their whereabouts,” the source said. “We know staff have direction to report privately to the Consulate on Mary Ng.”

Some Hong Kong Canadians are concerned that Minister Mary Ng attended the PRC’s 70th anniversary celebration in 2019 with Toronto Consul General Hong Tao (centre) and the leaders of Toronto Confederation of Chinese Canadian Organizations, whose leaders have also attended United Front Work Department meetings in Beijing.

Under enormous pressure, Trudeau’s government expelled Wei ZHAO from Canada in May 2023, after the Globe and Mail broke news that ZHAO had targeted Conservative MP Michael Chong and his family in the lead-up to the 2021 election.

That case is referred to broadly — without identifying Wei ZHAO or the elected officials he targeted — in the January 2022 Privy Council “Special Report” examined by The Bureau.

In a sub-section titled “Threatening Canada’s elected officials to deter criticism” the Privy Council document says Chinese intelligence conducted research on some MPs who voted in 2021 to declare China’s actions in Xinjiang a genocide.

“Elected officials are harassed, intimidated, pressured or punished as a result of what the CCP deems ‘anti-China’ policy positions,” the Special Report concludes.

It adds that in CSIS briefings a small number of MPs in 2021 reported concern for their families and concerns for their re-election as a result of “targeted” CCP activity.

While allegations that China secretly supported Mary Ng without her knowledge in 2019 have not previously been reported, a report from NSICOP, a Parliamentary intelligence review body, suggests China supported a different federal cabinet minister, prior to the October 2015 federal election.

NSICOP’s unredacted June 2019 draft report for Prime Minister Trudeau, reviewed by The Bureau, cites a January 13, 2015 report from CSIS, titled “PRC Interference in Canadian Electoral Politics Likely to intensify as Federal Election approaches.”

“A federal cabinet Minster was perceived by the PRC intelligence services as a co-opted agent,” NSICOP’s June 2019 report says. “The Cabinet Minister received diplomatic support during federal election campaigns and accepted substantial donations from a businessperson closely associated with the PRC Consulate in Canada.”

The cabinet minister isn’t identified. Nor are the relevant federal election campaigns.

In a year-end interview, CBC reportedly asked CSIS director David Vigneault if he believes anyone currently serving in the House of Commons is compromised by foreign interference.

Vigneault avoided the question but confirmed that China targets “politicians at all levels of government, federal, provincial, and municipal, and also … First Nations.”

“There are people who are being influenced unknowingly,” Vigneault reportedly said. “And then unfortunately, we also have seen indications of people who have been witting in their activities.”

FOURTH IMAGE: NSICOP reported on Foreign Interference to Prime Minister Trudeau in June 2019, a draft report reviewed by The Bureau shows.


“Tip of the iceberg”

Cheuk Kwan, of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, has previously testified in Parliament Committee hearings, saying many Chinese Canadians including himself have faced threats from Chinese agents.

Kwan analyzed The Bureau’s tapes of Senator Woo’s private meeting with Canada Committee 100 and looked at the group’s board structure.

“CCS100 looks like it’s another one of these groups set up to legitimize China’s United Front,” Kwan wrote.

One particular CCS100 advisory board member is listed as an “overseas representative” for the CPPCC, which according to United States intelligence, is designed to extend Chinese Communist Party influence over China’s domestic masses and also foreign institutions.

In recent testimony for the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, former CIA analyst Peter Mattis wrote “the Chinese Communist Party General Secretary and CPPCC Chairman,” sit atop Beijing’s united front systems.

Another Canada Committee 100 board advisor is Conservative Senator Victor Oh, who along with Senator Woo, has argued inside Parliament and in external petitions against a Canadian foreign agent registry.

Online records show that Senator Oh is also “honorary chairman” to a Jiangsu chamber of commerce in Toronto with documented links to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and other United Front Work Department entities.

In response to questions from The Bureau regarding its May 2020 meeting with Senator Woo, a Canada Committee 100 Society spokesperson wrote:

“As much as you have been trying so hard to paint an imagination about this organization, we would like to help you out with the following. Canada Committee 100 Society is a BC-registered non-partisan and not-for-profit community organization dedicated to advocating Canada’s diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Cheuk Kwan said he has been monitoring Yuen Pau Woo’s public statements in British Columbia for many years and he wasn’t surprised by Senator’s Woo’s private comments in the CCS100 meeting.

“My biggest problem with Woo is in his using anti-Chinese racism as a shield for not implementing a Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme,” Kwan wrote. “It’s downright offensive when he conflates the registry with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923.”

Regarding Commissioner Hogue’s decisions on intervener status and the Commission’s narrow mandate of only probing allegations of interference in two federal elections, Kwan said “the Inquiry is all wrong from the start.”

“I always said that the mandate of these inquiries are too narrow and only look at the tip of the iceberg,” Kwan said, “when China interference is in fact the rest of the iceberg that has been around for decades in a very long-range, strategic, methodical way.”

“Judge Hogue has no experience in the murky world of foreign interference,” Kwan added. “I am aghast at the logic of her decision on standing, as well an intervener status to Woo, who she claims is a leader of the Chinese community across Canada.”

David Wong, a former political candidate and Chinese community leader in Vancouver whose family was impacted by the Chinese exclusion act, also said he believes Senator Woo shouldn’t have standing in the Commission.

“A lot of the faces we see speaking on behalf of the community, don’t have the moral authority or history to speak to these past racist events,” Wong said in an interview. “That is why I get so pissed off when Senator Yuen Pau Woo tries to conflate past wrongs to the foreign agent registry. He doesn’t have the moral authority and he doesn’t speak on my behalf.”

Recruitment and grooming

If Commissioner Hogue is looking for corroboration on the broad thrust of leaked CSIS allegations on Beijing’s United Front election interference in 2019 and 2021, she will find it in several recent immigration rulings.

In a July 2023 decision, Immigration and Refugee Board member Iris Kohler found that Beijing’s United Front Work Department has become increasingly harmful to Canada’s interests since Xi Jinping became General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012.

Within several years Xi’s United Front “added approximately 40,000 new cadres,” reporting directly to senior Party leadership, Kohler found.

And Xi’s new empowerment of the UFWD means “almost all Chinese embassies now include staff formally tasked with United Front work,” her decision says.

And in 2018, the United Front Work Department absorbed the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, which “gives the UFWD greater control over attachés and consuls responsible for overseas Chinese work at China’s diplomatic missions,” she wrote.

“The UFWD is also involved in the recruitment and grooming of ethnic Chinese in the diaspora to become involved in the political realm and influence politics abroad with the goal of advocating for China’s interests and agenda, as it has been doing in Australia,” Kohler concluded.

“Canada’s political system is of interest to the UFWD,” her July 2023 decision finds. “A UFWD teaching manual ‘notes approvingly the success of overseas Chinese candidates in elections in Toronto’ in 2003 and 2006, and encourages UFWD operatives to work with these politicians.”

But there is no evidence the United Front Work Department “carried out espionage activities on these elected officials,” Kohler wrote.

In January 2024, Commissioner Hogue will begin to hear and consider the evidence stemming from a high-profile and sensitive investigation that started with a CSIS wiretap on the Toronto Consulate and its diplomat Wei ZHAO in January 2019, according to numerous national security sources.

In that seminal January 2019 CSIS wiretap investigation, a national security source informedThe Bureau, Wei ZHAO was heard talking to a “middleman” for an Ontario-based politician identified in the 2019 election interference probe.

“We need to meet somewhere private to do a handover meeting,” Wei ZHAO allegedly told the middleman, who is a Mandarin-language journalist in Toronto, according to CSIS sources.

Wei ZHAO, who arrived at his Toronto post in 2018, was China’s Consul for political affairs, media and Chinese diaspora services, until Trudeau’s government expelled ZHAO in the wake of Canadian media reports this year.

Shortly after arriving in Toronto, the youthful-looking diplomat started to make sensitive phone calls and grasp the reins of prominent political operators and fundraisers in United Front networks handled by Toronto Consular officials, two Canadian intelligence sources informed The Bureau.

But China has not answered The Bureau’s questions about Wei ZHAO, whose age and current location is unknown, and denies allegations that he is an intelligence officer.