CSIS: China peddled 'misinformation' against O'Toole during 2021 election

'Special rapporteur' David Johnston found little evidence to support MP Erin O'Toole's claims that Chinese interference cost the Conservatives 'eight or nine seats' in 2021.

CSIS: China peddled 'misinformation' against O'Toole during 2021 election
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Conservative MP Erin O'Toole is now the second member of his caucus to be the target of Chinese interference, according to Canada's federal spy agency.

O'Toole informed the House of Commons Tuesday the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) briefed him that China intended to discredit him and promote false narratives about his policies while party leader. 

He said neither CSIS nor the federal government flagged the threats at the time.

In a podcast last June, the former Conservative leader claimed his party lost "about eight or nine seats" due to Chinese interference, adding he could have had a stronger case to remain party leader had the party won those seats.

Across multiple ridings, Conservative candidates received significantly fewer votes at the polls in 2021 compared to 2019.

In 2019, Ontario MP Bob Saroya received over 26,000 votes. His support plummeted by 7,000 in the next election, leading to his defeat. His Liberal counterpart, Paul Chiang, earned nearly 22,000 votes — only 1,500 more votes than the previous Liberal candidate.

In B.C., former Conservative MP Alice Wong won the seat for Richmond Centre in 2015 with more than 17,000 votes and in 2019 with more than 19,000 votes. However, her vote count fell to 13,440 votes in 2021, and she lost her re-election bid.

Conservative MP Kenny Chiu also lost after receiving 4,400 fewer votes in 2021 than in 2019. Nearly half translated into swing votes for his Liberal challengers.

"When I [went] door knocking…there [were] supporters of mine who just shut the door in my face," he said. "There [was] so much hatred that I sensed."

DisinfoWatch, a foreign disinformation monitoring watchdog, also warned of a coordinated campaign against the Conservatives in 2021. Experts said the movements stemmed from WeChat, a Chinese instant messaging service.

CSIS informed O'Toole recently that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) funded a misinformation campaign against him over WeChat to bolster voter suppression during the 2021 federal election.

"The briefing from CSIS confirmed to me what I suspected for quite some time, that my parliamentary caucus and myself were the targets of a sophisticated misinformation and voter suppression campaign orchestrated by the People's Republic of China before and during the 2021 general election," he said.

On Monday, CSIS informed NDP MP Jenny Kwan that China also targeted her before the 2019 federal election for advocating human rights in Hong Kong and Uyghur Muslims in China. 

Conservative MP Michael Chong learned on May 1 that Chinese diplomat Wei Zhao targeted him and his family after he tabled legislation condemning China's treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority.

While 'special rapporteur' David Johnston found little evidence to support O'Toole's claims, his interim report did confirm Beijing sought information about Chong and his relatives.

On May 23, Johnston said it was 'unclear' if the information campaigns against Conservatives came from a state-sponsored source and if Chinese Canadians legitimately disagreed with the Conservative's hardline stance on China.

In that case, he would attribute that to the "democratic process" and not foreign interference.

Under a federal protocol, if an incident or an accumulation of incidents threatened the integrity of Canada's electoral process, the feds would have made a public announcement.

"Our democracy is built on trust in our institutions, democracy and each other," said Johnston. "Foreign interference threatens that trust and undermines the trust in our government's ability to protect our democracy."

"Canadians deserve answers into whether the government failed to protect our democracy."

However, no such announcement came in 2021 or concerning the 2019 election. The Liberals received minority mandates each time, while the Conservatives formed the Official Opposition.

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  • By Sheila Gunn Reid

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