Foreign meddling didn’t affect who formed government in past 2 elections, but inquiry flags ‘troubling’ events

3 May 2024
Foreign meddling didn’t affect who formed government in past 2 elections, but inquiry flags ‘troubling’ events

The public inquiry investigating foreign interference says attempts by other countries to meddle in Canada’s past two elections are a “stain” on this country’s electoral system, but ultimately did not affect which political party formed government.

“Our systems remain sound,” said Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue on Friday.

“Voters were able to cast their ballots, their votes were duly registered and counted, and there is nothing to suggest that there was any interference whatsoever in this regard.”

Her first report, released Friday, said it’s possible the results in a small number of ridings were affected by foreign interference “but this cannot be said with certainty.”

Hogue said some foreign adversaries still managed to accomplish one of their goals: undermining public confidence in Canadian democracy.

“They succeeded in part in 2019 and 2021 because some Canadians have now reduced trust in Canada’s democratic process,” said the nearly 200-page report.

“This is perhaps the greatest harm Canada has suffered as a result of foreign interference.”


It’s a shame we didn’t have Trudeau’s testimony on foreign interference earlier. Much earlier

CSIS chief defends his spies’ work after PM casts doubt on reliability of agency’s reports

The inquiry was triggered by media reports last year which, citing unnamed security sources and classified documents, accused China of interfering in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. Some of the reports also suggested members of the Liberal government were aware of certain attempts at interference but didn’t act.

Since January, Hogue and her team of lawyers have heard hours of sometimes contradictory testimony about the breadth of foreign interference in the past two elections by multiple countries, including China — which the commissioner said stands out as “the most persistent and sophisticated foreign interference threat to Canada”  — Russia, India and Pakistan, and whether information was shared with the right people at the right times.


Justice Marie-Josée Hogue, the commissioner leading the inquiry into foreign political interference in Canada, says there were acts of electoral interference in the last two general elections. She also stressed Friday that Canada’s system remains ‘sound’ and there is nothing to suggest interference in the casting or counting of ballots.

Hogue said none of the evidence she’s heard to date suggests officials acted in “bad faith” or that information was deliberately and improperly withheld.

“But it does suggest that on some occasions, information related to foreign interference did not reach its intended recipient, while on others the information was not properly understood by those who received it,” she wrote.

“These are serious issues that need to be investigated and considered.”

Hogue can’t exclude possibility PRC interfered in Han Dong’s win

One of the specific claims examined during the inquiry centred on alleged irregularities during the 2019 Don Valley North Liberal nomination contest.

The inquiry has seen intelligence summaries suggesting CSIS warned that international students were bused in to take part in the nomination vote, were given fake documents to allow them to vote for Han Dong — who went on to win the Liberal nomination — and were told by Chinese officials that if they didn’t participate their student visas would be in jeopardy and there could be consequences for their families back in China.

Documents are displayed on a screen behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he appears as a witness at the public inquiry in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Hogue’s report said “there are strong indications” that there was a bus transporting international students, most likely Chinese, to the the Don Valley North nomination contest, and those students likely voted in support of Han Dong.

She said classified information reinforces that conclusion.

“I cannot exclude the possibility that, if the [People’s Republic of China] did interfere in the Don Valley North nomination, this may have impacted the result of the nomination contest,” she wrote.

Her report notes that the riding is considered a safe Liberal seat, so if foreign interference played a role in the nomination period it likely didn’t change which party won in the general election.

MP Han Dong arrives to appear as a witness at the Public Inquiry Into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

“It would, however, have affected who was elected to Parliament. This is significant,” she said.

Dong left the Liberal caucus last year after Global News published a report alleging he advised a senior Chinese diplomat in February 2021 that Beijing should hold off on releasing two detained Canadians. He has denied those allegations, along with suggestions he’s a willing tool of the PRC.

During the public hearings, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was briefed about concerns that CSIS had about Dong’s nomination contest. He said the evidence wasn’t sufficient to remove Dong as a candidate.

Impact in Kenny Chiu’s riding uncertain­

Another riding that was flagged for potential foreign interference was the 2021 electoral race in Steveston–Richmond East.

During the campaign, misinformation about the Conservative Party, then Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and Conservative candidate Kenny Chiu circulated on social media with ties to the PRC, such as WeChat.

Hogue’s report said while no definitive link between these false narratives and Beijing has been proven, “there are strong indicators of PRC involvement.”

She said there’s a “reasonable possibility that the media narrative” could have affected the result in Steveston–Richmond East, but it’s difficult to determine.

“Nonetheless, the acts of interference that occurred are a stain on our electoral process and impacted the process leading up to the actual vote,” she said.

“The facts revealed by the evidence I have heard so far show that intelligence agencies collected information about troubling events that occurred in a handful of ridings during the 2019 and 2021 elections.”

Kenny Chiu appears as a witness at the Public Inquiry Into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

O’Toole has suggested the system the government set up to ward off the types of threats that tainted the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the Brexit vote failed.

Nicknamed the “panel of five,” the team of top bureaucrats was tasked in 2019 and 2021 with monitoring foreign interference and issuing public warnings if they felt there was a threat to the integrity of the vote.

Impact of meddling could be ‘more severe in the future’

O’Toole testified that he believes his party lost five to nine seats because of a foreign misinformation campaign aimed at Conservative candidates in B.C. and Ontario, and at his party more generally.

Hogue said she didn’t see evidence to support those numbers.

O’Toole suggested the panel should have issued public notices to voters warning them to be wary of information that they were obtaining from social media.

Members of the panel concluded that the threshold for such an announcement was not met. That conclusion was informed by the panel’s impression that there was a self-cleansing media ecosystem.

“I am concerned by this reliance on the idea of a self-cleansing media ecosystem,” wrote Hogue. “By the time that disinformation fades away, it may be too late.”

CSIS Director David Vigneault returned to the public inquiry on foreign inference, defending the spy agency’s work after the prime minister told the inquiry he doesn’t always trust the intelligence shared with him.

Hogue’s work is far from done. Her Friday report nods to paths she plans to examine over the next few months as she studies how Canada can better respond to the threat of foreign interference.

“Foreign interference in 2019 and 2021 undermined the right of voters to have an electoral ecosystem free from coercion or covert influence,” she wrote.

“Foreign interference has an impact when there is a single instance where a ballot is cast in a certain way, or not cast at all, because of a foreign state’s direct or indirect enticement. This impact has likely been slight to date but may become more severe in the future.”

Final report coming this year

The Liberals initially resisted calls from opposition parties for a public inquiry following the leak-based media stories. Its first move was to appoint former governor general David Johnston as special rapporteur on foreign interference to assess whether the Liberal government ignored threats or advice from national security agencies.

Erin O’Toole appears as a witness at the public inquiry on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Johnston found no evidence that Trudeau or his ministers knowingly ignored intelligence, but concluded there needs to be a better flow of information between them. His May 2023 report disputed several Global News and Globe and Mail reports after reviewing associated intelligence in a broader context.

A few weeks after that report was released, Johnston — who had been accused of being unfit for the job because of his personal connections to Trudeau — stepped down, saying his role had become too tainted by political controversy for him to continue.

Friday’s report is one of two reports Hogue is required to deliver. A final report is due at the end of the year.

Source: cbc

Breaking News
Cookies allow us to personalize content and ads, provide social media features, and analyze our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising, and analytics partners.
I accept!