The Canadian prime minister made the remarks in an interview with Bloomberg during his recent Singapore visit – part of an Asian trip aimed at forging new trade ties while attending the Group of 20 leaders’ meeting.
When questioned over his reluctance to pass a foreign agent registry law, he responded, “Umm… This is a complex issue with no easy answers, and a lot of people glommed onto ‘Oh, if we get a foreign agent registry, suddenly everything will be simply simpler and easy to do.’ It hasn’t solved everything in places it [a foreign agent registry] has been brought in. It’s an important tool. We are absolutely looking at it.”
Trudeau stated that there was no room for a “rapprochement” with China under President Xi Jinping’s iron-fisted rule and that “China has made decisions over the past years that have made it more difficult - not just for Canada but for other countries - to engage."
Reducing Canada’s reliance on China by expanding trade with other Asian nations is a crucial goal of Canada’s new Indo-Pacific strategy, launched in late 2022. Trudeau acknowledged that a free trade deal with China was initially one of his primary goals after coming into power in 2015. However, his government has had a “challenging few years” following the “arbitrary detention of two Canadians.”
A damning series of intelligence leaks from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) claiming a vast network of foreign election interference surfaced in news reports, resulting in an uproar that culminated in the expulsion of a Chinese diplomat from the country.
The Trudeau government has since been haunted by allegations that it withheld evidence related to election interference, allegedly because the interference (according to the leaks) primarily benefitted the Liberal Party of Canada.
While Trudeau appointed a “Special Rapporteur” to investigate the claims, the findings of that report were widely rejected because the appointed official, former Governor General David Johnston, had deep ties to the Trudeau family and the Chinese government. Testimony in front of a House of Commons committee also confirmed that Johnston had either omitted or not been provided with key documents related to election interference, calling into question the integrity and completeness of the report.
During the interview, Trudeau was caught off guard when the issue of election interference was broached.
Calls for a foreign agent registry act have intensified in Canada following the bombshell reports on Chinese election interference.
A recent mass protest was held against the introduction of such legislation, organized by community associations and Canadian politicians with close ties to Chinese diplomats. The United States has had one (a FARA) since 1938.
A full public inquiry into interference was announced by the Trudeau government on Thursday, after much delay. The first report is expected in February of 2024.