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Ottawa knew of Chinese Communist attacks on Conservatives in 2021 but decided not to intervene: Commission lawyer

Posted By April 30, 2024 No Comments

FIC hears also that Greater Vancouver “pro-democracy” NDP candidate Jenny Kwan targeted by United Front Work Department group that supported her Liberal Party opponent in 2021

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

Before Canada’s 2021 federal election a task-force implemented to ensure fair campaigning observed a Chinese Communist Party operation discouraging Canadians from voting for the Conservative Party but intentionally chose not to intervene, the Foreign Interference Commission heard Wednesday.

And in a secret post-election report the task-force confirmed “The PRC sought to clandestinely and deceptively influence Canada’s 2021 federal election,” the inquiry heard.

Meanwhile, the inquiry heard for the first time that Chinese Communist proxies targeted Greater Vancouver candidates such as NDP MP Jenny Kwan in the 2019 federal election by gate-keeping them away from vote-rich Chinese community events, and that Ottawa also knew a United Front Work Department group evidently supported Kwan’s Liberal opponent in 2021, but failed to inform Kwan.

Two of the Conservatives attacked in Beijing-funded media schemes in 2021 that reportedly originated in Toronto — former Vancouver-area MP Kenny Chiu and former party leader Erin O’Toole — told Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue that hearing evidence proves Canada’s government failed to protect its last election and the Chinese diaspora heavily targeted by Beijing.

“I was deeply troubled that I was exposed and the government doesn’t seem to care,” Chiu testified. “And now I have learned they knew all about it. It is almost like I was drowning, and they were watching.”

Chiu said as an immigrant to Canada he feels especially betrayed by leaders in Ottawa that have demonstrated inaction.

“In my view the buck stops with the Prime Minister,” Chiu said. “He let me down.”

Chiu and O’Toole were shown a number of intelligence alerts produced in the weeks prior to the September 20, 2021 vote by Canada’s so-called SITE task-force and Rapid Response team, units touted by the Trudeau government as world class election safeguards.

O’Toole was asked by Commission lawyers if he got this alert, published one-week prior to the ballot, saying: “[Rapid Response] Canada has observed what may be a Chinese Communist Party information operation that aims to discourage voters from voting for the Conservative Party of Canada.”

“No, this was not raised to our attention, and in fact we were raising incidents of Foreign Interference, and the SITE committee tended to downplay them,” O’Toole said. “Which is why these documents, now contradict that.”

Other pre-election reports from SITE and Rapid Response showed “CCP media accounts on Chinese social media platforms WeChat sharing widely a narrative that [Conservative’s] election platform suggests Erin O’Toole ‘almost wants to break diplomatic ties with China’ [and] the narrative has grown in scale,” the inquiry heard.

And Ottawa knew of other messages shared between Chinese state media, Chinese media in Canada, and Chinese controlled social media claiming “Chinese-Canadians are scared of the Conservative’s platform” and Kenny Chiu was an enemy of Chinese people because Chiu had tabled a bill advocating foreign agent registration.

“WeChat news accounts in Canada continued to post a false claim that a Kenny Chiu-sponsored private member’s bill … would require “all individuals or groups with ties to China would be required to register,” one SITE report said.

Another narrative recognized by SITE prior to the election was that O’Toole was supposedly a follower of Donald Trump and would be harmful to China if elected Prime Minister.

However, there was a meeting on September 9, 2021, a lawyer for Conservative MP Michael Chong informed the hearing, in which SITE decided not to intervene because they judged the nationwide election result would not be swayed.

A September 13 internal brief from SITE presented to the hearing seems to confirm that contradictory position.

“Canada’s electoral systems and processes continue to remain resilient to the current level of foreign interference,” the alert said.

But it also said: “The PRC continues to be focused on influencing and potentially interfering with Canadian democratic processes, having identified Canadian politicians considered anti-PRC, sanctioned a sitting MP, [redacted sentences follow.]”

O’Toole testified the Conservatives believe they lost up to nine seats in 2021 as a direct result of Chinese interference, and SITE should have intervened prior to the vote.

“To suggest an election is free and fair is not accurate, if some people are impacted, each vote matters,” O’Toole said. “It was a mistake not to raise the alarm.”

Trudeau fed Beijing’s disinformation narratives inquiry hears

Both O’Toole and Chiu testified they believed Prime Minister Trudeau fed into the Chinese misinformation attacks that marred the 2021 election by pushing back on preceding Conservative questions about security breaches in the Winnipeg Lab.

“I believe there is some coincidence between the Prime Minister saying don’t be Anti-Asian if you inquire with what happened in Wuhan and Winnipeg,” Chiu said. “I don’t know if the Chinese copied that attack, or the Liberals copied China, but the anti-asian line has been used continuously by the Chinese Communist Party against me.”

O’Toole said he believed Beijing favoured the Liberals and attacked the Conservatives, because O’Toole’s party had taken stronger positions on national security issues, more aligned with the United States and Western allies.

“We had taken strong positions with regards to the Uyghurs and the Two Michaels,” O’Toole said. “If I had won we would have a much more wide-eyed view with China, so that drove the interest with Beijing that the Liberal government was preferable.”

The Commission also heard that O’Toole might have lost votes to Russian disinformation in 2021.

“Chinese and China state-aligned accounts continued to amplify messages by or supportive of the Liberal Party of Canada, while Russia-friendly accounts continued to amplify People’s Party of Canada related content,” one election monitoring document said.

In later testimony Vancouver-area NDP MP Jenny Kwan testified that she believed Chinese proxies may have been involved in “vote-buying” or “bribes” that supported her Liberal opponent with a free lunch event in the 2021 election.

A Commission lawyer disclosed to Kwan that SITE “flagged this issue with the lunch” and connected it to a United Front Work Department group in Vancouver, and yet Kwan was never informed by SITE.

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