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B.C. MP leads call for public inquiry into foreign interference

Peter Julian's notice of motion was introduced at a parliamentary committee on foreign election interference.
New Westminster-Burnaby MP Peter Julian.

The MP for New Westminster-Burnaby called on Parliament Wednesday to launch a national public inquiry into allegations of foreign interference in Canada’s democratic system, “including but not limited to allegations of interference in general elections by foreign governments.”

Peter Julian’s notice of motion was introduced at a parliamentary committee on foreign election interference. The committee was launched following recent national media reports on leaked national security concerns from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service that People’s Republic of China’s diplomats and proxy agents surreptitiously assisted chosen Liberal candidates in the 2019 and 2021 federal election — and the Prime Minister’s Office was briefed on the matters.

Leader of the Opposition Pierre Poilievre likewise called for a public inquiry.

Poilievre said the results of the elections are not being called into question. Rather, information on interference must be better.

"We need a quick, simple, direct process to alert the process and the system if a foreign government is interfering in an election or intimidating voters,” said Poilievre Wednesday.

The Bloc Quebecois also called for an inquiry Wednesday, whereas Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has previously dismissed the notion. The NDP is presently supporting the Liberal minority government.

Addressing the committee Wednesday was Jody Thomas, national security and intelligence adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office.

“I acknowledge foreign interference has been attempted,” said Thomas.

It was noted by Thomas that foreign interference is not a new phenomenon. And, Shawn Tupper, deputy minister of Public Safety Canada, said no criminal investigation has been launched by the RCMP. Tupper said Elections Canada may look at the allegations as they correspond to the Elections Act.

Liberal MP for Whitby Ryan Turnbull asked about specific reported allegations and whether they constitute illegal activity, such as China’s embassy allegedly refunding donations made to at least one Liberal candidate.

“That report was in the media. Of course, the intelligence that backs it up is more complex than is evident in the single clip or piece reported in the media,” said Thomas.

Tupper addressed the need to engage diaspora communities who he acknowledged are threatened by foreign government interference.

Turnbull said open dialogue is important when these matters arise publicly and the best example is on de facto Chinese police stations operating in Canada.

“We were able to engage with communities; we were to kind of do public appeals, post information, post police officers outside of those venues; engage with Chinese diplomats in the country. That has effectively stopped the activities of those five police stations. So, it is working through the community and working in a public way as best we can that allows us to resist and push back against those kinds of foreign interference,” said Turnbull.

At least one known alleged Chinese police station is in Richmond, where two public protests have occurred last month, led by Chinese-Canadians concerned about Chinese Communist Party activities there.

B.C.-based group the Chinese-Canadian Concerned Group on the Chinese Communist Party’s Human Rights Violation issued a statement Tuesday, calling for a “a robust investigation and public inquiry into election interferences and offences.”

Concerned Group members Bill Chu, also a spokesman for Canadians for Reconciliation Society and Victor Ho, a former editor of Sing Tao Daily, said Trudeau has downplayed the concerns.

“All offences under the Canada Election Act and National Security Act must be prosecuted to their full extent. Under the Canada Elections Act, solicitation of partisan donations through a third party is an illegal offence. Persecuting CCP agents in accordance with Canadian law will send the clear message that Canadian laws and elections will not be meddled with, and will serve as a deterrence for future attempts of election interference,” stated Chu and Ho.

Some of the allegations include China's consul general in Vancouver Tong Xiaoling, who allegedly boasted about backing certain candidates who were elected. The consul general denied the allegations in a statement last month.

In 2021, Richmond-Steveston MP Kenny Chiu claimed a PRC-led misinformation campaign was launched against him on WeChat, causing voters to be misled about his intent to create a federal registry on foreign agents.

The committee is expected to reconvene Thursday for a vote on the motion. What remains unclear is the scope of the inquiry, should one be approved by the House of Commons. Julian wants to see powers to order and review all documents, including national security documents. Thomas cautioned national security laws are likely to prevent any inquiry from having completely free and open discussions with officials.

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