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Beijing backed Trudeau while “calibrating” support for 2019 Election to influence Meng case: CSIS documents

Posted By April 26, 2024 No Comments

“CSIS assesses PRC seeks to exert pressure on Canada’s political leaders by clandestinely interfering in Canadian democratic institutions in the run-up to the 2019 federal election”: June 2019 report

A CSIS Intelligence Assessment reviewed by The Bureau describes Beijing’s covert efforts to influence Meng Wanzhou’s Canadian court proceedings.

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

The Ministry of State Security, China’s feared secret police, strategically calibrated Beijing’s support for Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the 2019 election, seeking to halt Meng Wanzhou’s extradition to the United States by backing some non-Liberal candidates and running operations “primarily designed to exert political and personal pressure on Canada’s political leadership,” CSIS reported in June 2019.

The bombshell “Canadian Eyes Only” intelligence assessment, reviewed exclusively by The Bureau, was disseminated in Ottawa months before the October 2019 vote.

It reveals allegations never reported in Canadian media.

And for the first time, leaked CSIS intelligence plausibly outlines how the interlocked detentions of Huawei’s chief financial officer and the Two Michaels drove Beijing’s deep interference in Canada’s 2019 and 2021 contests.

Titled “PRC Strategy and Tactics to Influence the Meng Proceedings” it also exposes serious information gaps in Ottawa’s Foreign Interference Commission hearings.

The Commission is mandated to determine whether Beijing interfered in Canada’s 2019 and 2021 elections, whether Trudeau and his senior officials were warned by CSIS of China’s partisan meddling, and whether they responded sufficiently, or at all.

Trudeau and his senior minister Dominic LeBlanc and chief of staff Katie Telford have cast doubt in Commission hearings on intelligence from 2021 suggesting the Prime Minister’s party was favoured by Beijing, and that a Chinese diplomat in Vancouver had bragged of defeating two Conservative MPs.

But the June 2019 CSIS document reviewed by The Bureau is more definitive than previously leaked records.

It points singularly at Justin Trudeau, indicating the Liberal Prime Minister was clandestinely supported by Beijing, according to “multiple corroborated reports” collected in 2019 from numerous “PRC missions in Canada.”

But Chinese agents moderated their support for Trudeau and Liberal candidates, the sensitive CSIS report says, with Beijing “hedging its bets” ahead of the 2019 vote in order to maximize influence on the Meng proceedings.

The Bureau asked the Commission whether it has reviewed documents showing that CSIS reported to the Prime Minister prior to the 2019 election that Beijing was supporting Trudeau but calibrating its election interference to force Meng’s release.

“The Commission will not comment on the status of its investigation, or its investigation plans,” spokesman Michael Tansey responded. Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue, facing a tight deadline, must file an interim report on May 3.

Other critical pieces of intelligence revealed in the document and not examined in Commission hearings include CSIS’s assessment that Ministry of State Security (MSS) bureaus were tasked “from high levels” to “make the largest possible impact” in Canada’s 2019 election, while MSS agents sought “to influence Canada’s senior leaders by singling out politically-connected members of the business community for trade action.”

The document also sheds greater light on Beijing’s exploitation of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor to lure Ottawa into murky backchannel negotiations on Meng’s case.

Shockingly, it reveals Beijing expected Canada would eventually extradite Meng, but the MSS nevertheless rolled out a “multi-faceted pressure campaign” and may even have prepared for a deadly last resort.

“CSIS assesses that the PRC prioritizes avoiding Ms. Meng’s extradition partly due to concern that she may cooperate with U.S. authorities during a criminal trial and reveal privileged information in the process,” the June 10, 2019 CSIS document says. “Uncorroborated single source CSIS reporting indicates that the PRC may consider Ms. Meng’s exfiltration or assassination if it becomes the only alternative to significant national harm.”

Charles Burton, a sinologist and former Canadian diplomat in China, called CSIS’s June 2019 assessment a “highly significant document.”

“I think it’s a game-changer in terms of the Interference Commission, because it indicates more than other documents we’ve seen in the past, the degree of sophisticated understanding that CSIS has over Ministry of State Security operations in Canada,” Burton said.

“So it makes it much, much, more difficult for the government to claim CSIS isn’t properly informed on China’s activities,” he added. “And one does wonder why, when this information would have been transmitted to the policymakers and the Prime Minister’s office and the Prime Minister himself, why the government has not taken any action to address these very serious issues of infiltration by a foreign power into our Canadian politics.”

Clandestinely supporting candidates

Under the subtitle “Political pressure via foreign interference in democratic processes” the June 2019 document says “CSIS assesses that the PRC will seek to exploit the 2019 Federal Election to gain influence over candidates and political parties” in order to avert Meng’s extradition.

And “Beijing’s multi-dimensional strategy is likely to remain in place until Meng’s extradition proceedings conclude,” CSIS predicted in June 2019.

Unequivocally, the six-page intelligence document confirms that Justin Trudeau and his Liberal candidates were favoured by Beijing in Canadian elections.

Some of the intelligence previously leaked to Canadian media on Chinese interference includes caveats, explaining that certain information is only single- sourced, or uncorroborated.

That’s not the case with intelligence in the June 2019 document which indicates Justin Trudeau is the Prime Minister that Beijing has supported.

But Beijing’s preferences for Canadian federal governments became more complex with the arrest of Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver International Airport on December 1, 2018, an earth-shaking geopolitical event.

“The PRC is calibrating its clandestine interference in the 2019 federal election to reflect its displeasure with Canada’s current political leaders,” the June 2019 document says.

“CSIS assesses that the PRC seeks to exert pressure on Canada’s political leaders by clandestinely interfering in Canadian democratic institutions in the run-up to the 2019 federal election,” it continues.

“Multiple corroborated reports confirm that PRC missions in Canada are moderating their support for the Prime Minister and other Liberal candidates.” 

After Meng’s arrest China’s clandestine support for candidates was refined across Canada, the document adds, with local issues taking precedence in some ridings, and the Meng case shaping Beijing’s preferences in other ridings.

“Additional reporting confirms that the PRC missions are providing clandestine support to candidates from all three main political parties ahead of the 2019 elections, ‘hedging its bets’ in what the PRC assesses to be an unpredictable election,” it says.

And Beijing planned to “leverage this unpredictability to maximize its influence over candidates and politically influential Canadians.”

In response to questions from The Bureau, CSIS spokesman Eric Balsam said the Commission has access to all CSIS records within its mandate. Balsam didn’t answer whether CSIS informed Prime Minister Trudeau prior to Canada’s October 2019 election that Canadian intelligence believed Beijing was supporting Trudeau while also hedging its clandestine support in order to influence Meng’s case.

In an interview, Charles Burton said the June 2019 CSIS document supports previous media reports that allege Beijing sought to return a Liberal minority government in the 2021 election.

But the June 2019 document sheds greater light on what motivates Beijing’s partisan preferences and the Ministry of State Security’s incredibly sophisticated visibility and leverage in elite Canadian political and business networks.

“I think that this document does fit in with China wanting a Liberal minority government,” Burton said.

“Whereas possibly before the Meng extradition matter, China would have preferred a majority Liberal government that would be able to effectively implement foreign policy programming that favours PRC interests, and given its past policies which have not addressed serious concerns over PRC malign activities in Canada.”

The MSS, the Michaels and Meng

The June 2019 document is also groundbreaking, Burton says, because it reveals the Ministry of State Security’s preeminence in President Xi Jinping’s policy and foreign relations.

The document says China’s diplomats had little role in the Meng affair.

But within 30 days of Meng’s detention “CSIS intelligence indicates that MSS units were tasked from ‘high levels’ to ‘actively respond’ spurring competition between regional bureaus to make the largest possible impact.”

“The MSS has been tasked to ‘actively respond’ to the arrest while also ‘find quiet solutions’ to the bilateral crisis,” it continues, adding CSIS “collection further establishes that President Xi Jinping receives reports … related to the current tensions directly from the MSS.”

And Beijing’s multifaceted pressure campaign on Trudeau’s government sought to shut down diplomatic talks as public outrage swirled in Canada around China’s jailing of the Two Michaels.

“CSIS further assesses that PRC officials primarily view the detentions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor as retaliatory, but also useful as a pretext for ‘quiet communications’ outside of traditional channels,” the document says.

It confirms China perceived the two Canadians as spies, an accusation that Michael Kovrig strongly denies.

“Single-source reporting indicates that the PRC believes Kovrig and Spavor have a relationship with the Canadian and/or U.S. intelligence communities,” the document says, adding “it is likely that the PRC will use their cases to induce Government of Canada into dialogue.”

In responses to The Bureau on CSIS intelligence cited in this story, Kovrig insisted his work as a diplomat and researcher in China with the anti-war organization International Crisis Group (ICG) was innocent and transparent, but Beijing arbitrarily detained himself and Spavor “as political hostages to blackmail the Government of Canada into releasing Meng Wanzhou.”

“Let’s be crystal clear. As a diplomat, I did diplomatic reporting. As an adviser to ICG, I did research, analysis and advocacy. I was transparent in my activities. I never engaged in spying,” Kovrig said.

“Even the MSS and the Chinese prosecutor didn’t accuse me of being an intelligence officer,” Kovrig added. “The sum of the trumped-up charges against me were that I’d had conversations with Chinese scholars, and that those scholars had said things they shouldn’t have.”

Regarding CSIS’s uncorroborated intelligence that Beijing may have considered assassinating Meng as a last resort to her co-operating with U.S. investigations into Huawei, Kovrig said the information isn’t shocking for China experts.

“That’s interesting that CSIS reported that, but not surprising or entirely new to me,” Kovrig said. “That’s consistent with my own research and knowledge of the Chinese system.”

Charles Burton has a similar view.

“You can’t rule those kinds of tactics out,” he said.

“I always felt they were taking so much action to try and prevent Ms. Meng from being transmitted to the United States because it’s quite possible that she might’ve been given a deal in exchange for providing information about what the U.S. State Department has long suspected, that Chinese intelligence are directing Huawei in its operations, to give significant surveillance advantages to China, and insight into critical U.S. infrastructure, and the capacity to turn off phones and the Internet.

Section 23(3) Prisoner Swap Plan

While the June 2019 “PRC Strategy and Tactics” document doesn’t detail exactly how MSS bureaus impacted Canada’s 2019 election or which candidates Beijing favoured aside from Prime Minister Trudeau, it says China strategically targeted Canadian industrialists that “have direct access to senior elected officials.”

“It’s very revealing, because it suggests a degree of comprehensiveness and sophistication in the Ministry of State Security’s knowledge of political power in Canada and the relationship between a business and key political policy makers,” Burton said.

Another classified document reviewed by The Bureau — the Privy Council Office’s January 2022 “Special Report” on Chinese election interference — says in January 2019, former Liberal cabinet minister John McCallum, then ambassador to China, may have been “pushed” to hold two press conferences to argue Meng Wanzhou’s detention was illegal.

The Bureau’s analysis of available media reports on Meng and the Michaels suggests Chinese intelligence could have pressed many other influential Canadians in political, academic, legal, and business orbits.

Also in January 2019, weeks after Meng’s arrest, former RCMP undercover officer Bill Majcher has disclosed he was hired by a Chinese think tank to gather information about the extradition process in Meng’s case.

Majcher and some of his police community associates were later investigated by CSIS and RCMP national security units, The Bureau reported in 2023. Majcher has since been charged for working with Chinese security services in Canada and maintains his innocence in an ongoing court case.

Next, on June 13 2019, citing anonymous sources, The Globe and Mail reported former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was “floating the idea of having Canada’s Justice Minister exercise his legal authority to stop the U.S. extradition” of Meng.

This legal idea was brought forward by University of British Columbia professor Wenran Jiang, who was also viewed by Huawei as “helpful to influence Canadian public opinion,” the newspaper reported.

Next, at the G20 Osaka summit on June 29 2019, Prime Minister Trudeau opportunistically slipped President Xi Jinping a note in Mandarin and proposed backchannel talks on the Meng and Two Michaels cases, theWall Street Journal has reported, citing government sources.

Days later, according The Journal’s investigation, Trudeau’s economic advisor Dominic Barton traveled for an “unofficial and secret” meeting with Chinese officials in Beijing.

An unidentified Chinese official berated Barton in this secret meeting, The Journal reported, telling him Canada could free Meng using Section 23(3) of Canada’s 1999 Extradition Act, “which gave the country’s justice minister authority to cancel an extradition.”

Back in Canada, from late 2019 into 2021, while Conservatives including leader Erin O’Toole demanded the release of Kovrig and Spavor, threatened tough sanctions and pressed Trudeau to take a harder line against Beijing, numerous Liberal Party of Canada heavyweights including Chrétien continued to advocate for a prisoner swap and Meng’s release based upon 23(3) of Canada’s 1999 Extradition Act.

After Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the November 2020 U.S. presidential election, Trudeau’s first bilateral meeting with Biden was February 23, 2021 The Journal reported.

First item on Trudeau’s agenda was Kovrig and Spavor’s imprisonment in China, and Trudeau told Biden “they are there because we are living up to our commitments to you,” The Journal reported.

Weeks later Kovrig and Spavor were finally tried in China.

In mid-summer 2021, Dominic Barton and Chinese officials agreed to terms on Meng’s release in exchange for Kovrig and Spavor, The Journal reported, with Chinese lawyers submitting wording for a deferred prosecution agreement on Meng’s criminal case to U.S. officials on September 19, 2021.

Canada’s federal election fell on the next day and Trudeau’s Liberals secured a minority government.

Within a week the Meng for Two Michaels prisoner swap was consummated.

Meng had a deadline on Sept. 24 to sign the U.S. government’s deferred prosecution agreement,” The Journal reported, and when “the U.S. case was done, Canada invoked Section 23(3), the article allowing the government to terminate Ms. Meng’s custody.”