Former elections commissioner dismissed Chinese targeting of Conservative MPs

Former Elections Commissioner Yves Côté admitted to not pursuing allegations that Chinese agents targeted prospective Conservative voters in the 2021 general election. He has never prosecuted them or found sufficient evidence they contravened the Canada Elections Act.

Former elections commissioner dismissed Chinese targeting of Conservative MPs
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Former Elections Commissioner Yves Côté admitted to dismissing alleged targeting of prospective Conservative voters by Chinese agents in the 2021 general election.

On Thursday, records disclosed at the China inquiry confirmed Côté dismissed complaints of Chinese-language posts warning “Chinese people will be killed if a Conservative Party government is elected.”

“When investigators reviewed the translations, they did not identify any overt threats of violence,” reads an investigation summary. “These posts either appeared to support the Liberal Party of Canada or appeared to vilify the Conservative Party alleging it is anti-China and that the Conservative Party discriminates against Asian people.”

As Commissioner for nearly a decade, Côté never prosecuted Chinese agents for breach of the Canada Elections Act, reported Blacklock’s Reporter

Section 282.4 of the Act forbids any foreign individual, corporation, trade union, political party or government from trying to “unduly influence an elector to vote or refrain from voting” in a Canadian general election. 

However, Côté testified at the Commission on Foreign Interference that he has “no duty to investigate everything.”

“The Commissioner has the duty of carrying out functions so as to maximize compliance with the law, but you will understand I presume there are all sorts of things you can choose not to investigate,” he added. “I do not think the Act imposes on a commissioner the duty to investigate.”

Côté retired June 30, 2022. 

On Thursday, the now-retired elections commissioner cited other priorities and limited resources for not pursuing the complaints stemming from the 2021 general elections.

“The Commissioner determined there was nothing violent or offensive in the language that was at issue and closed the file, is that right?” asked Gib van Ert, counsel for Conservative MP Michael Chong. “Not quite,” replied Côté.

“The question was not whether there was violent language or not, it was to determine upon reviewing these messages whether we could conclude there was a violation of the Act,” testified Côté. “We determined the messages were sometimes strong. Sometimes the language was offensive.”

The former commissioner also acknowledged he received complaints of Chinese agents using WeChat to target then-Conservative MP Kenny Chiu.

“Research was conducted on identified individuals related to the posts which identified some ties to China-based entities with associated links to the Communist Party of China,” read the investigation summary.

“The review did not identify tangible or direct evidence to substantiate the elements constituting the offence of undue foreign influence,” wrote investigators. Côté never informed Chiu of the investigation, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

“We see ourselves first and foremost as an organization receiving complaints, receiving information, and not as an organization whose mandate would comprise distribution or communication of information coming from us to others,” he said.

Nando de Luca, counsel for the Conservative Party, asked if Côté felt any responsibility to investigate all wrongdoing. 

“If not the duty, certainly the responsibility and the authority to do so?” asked Counsel de Luca. “Certainly, the authority,” replied Cote.

“Do all the complaints you receive result in investigations?” asked Counsel de Luca. “In my time, no,” replied Cote.

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