Liberal-appointed Senator questions credibility of reports on China targeting MPs

On February 3, Senator Yuen Pau Woo delivered a speech at the Chinese Canadian Museum in Vancouver, expressing his disapproval of Canada's efforts to establish a foreign agent registry.

Liberal-appointed Senator questions credibility of reports on China targeting MPs
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Controversial Senator Yuen Pau Woo met with affiliates of Beijing’s espionage arm before penning a submission to the Foreign Interference Commission, according to unverified reports.

As first reported by The Bureau, Woo gave a speech on February 3 at Vancouver’s Chinese Canadian Museum, expressing disapproval of Canada’s pursuit of a foreign agent registry. Senator Victor Oh was also in attendance.

Woo supposedly claimed that Chinese Canadians are “now in a very dangerous period,” and suggested that media reports on alleged foreign interference by China are discriminatory. 

“They're still trying to tag us,” he reportedly said. “We have to fight back and teach our next generation to fight back.” His speech has yet to be independently verified.

This reiterates commentary by the senator last May 16, where he claimed a registry would push “frenzy of innuendo against Chinese Canadian politicians.” He did not elaborate at the time.

"The recent media reporting of anonymous and unsubstantiated 'intelligence' reports has created a frenzy of innuendo against Chinese Canadian politicians, scholars and community leaders, all in the name of national security," he penned.

In a February 6 submission to the Commission, Woo attempted to rebuke federal reports on election interference and WeChat disinformation, specifically mentioning former Conservative MPs Kenny Chiu and Erin O’Toole. He notably referenced a redacted SITE document Threats to Canadian Federal Election 2021.

“While we do not have clear evidence that this online activity was a PRC-directed FI campaign, we have observed indicators of potential coordination between various Canada-based Chinese language news outlets as well as PRC and CCP news outlets,” reads Threats. 

It alleged Chinese state media sought to undermine Chiu’s private member’s Bill C-282, An Act to Establish the Foreign Agent Registry. They falsely claimed the bill would designate “any individual or group connected with China as a spokesperson of the Chinese government.” 

Chiu later blamed his 2021 electoral defeat on Chinese foreign interference.

“This document reported that ‘the People’s Republic of China sought to clandestinely and deceptively influence Canada’s 2021 federal election’ and provided the following example,” reads Woo’s submission.

SITE observed online activities aimed at discouraging Chinese Canadians from supporting O’Toole, and Chiu. DisinfoWatch, a foreign disinformation monitoring watchdog, also warned of a coordinated campaign against the Conservatives in 2021.

“It is my assessment that the conclusions reached … are problematic and that to accept the O’Toole/Chiu incidents as authentic cases of foreign interference and disinformation would be harmful to affected citizens and to Canadian democracy more broadly,” penned Woo.

He suggested Canadian intelligence could not prove these messages originated from Beijing and that the commentary against O’Toole and Chiu were ‘fair.’ 

However, leaked audio from May 2020 alleged Woo secretly pledged to defend the same group of Vancouverites who attended the event on February 3. He previously championed a Commons petition against a registry, calling it a “serious harassment and stigmatization risk” for Chinese Canadians. 

"It could also create a chill within vulnerable communities leading them to withdraw from civic engagement and public service," it reads. Petition E-4395 has only garnered 2,450 signatures as of writing.

For nearly two years, the Liberal-held Senate has delayed passage of Bill S-237. It has yet to receive a second reading in the Senate after completing its first reading on February 24, 2022.

“Get the ball rolling instead of wasting another year in consultations and maybe have another election before we get anything done,” urged Conservative Senator and sponsor of the bill, Leo Housakos.

Should Bill S-237 pass, it would compel disclosure under threat of $200,000 fines or two years in jail.

Last May 17, the all-party Commons special committee on Canada-China relations also recommended a registry. Yet, legislation remains in limbo without reason.

“Several allied countries have established foreign influence registries,” said the committee report Foreign Interference And The Threats To The Integrity Of Democratic Institutions.

Canada has failed to pass legislation despite several proposals, including Conservative Bill S-237, An Act To Establish The Foreign Influence Registry.

During a Canada-China relations committee hearing last February, then-Public Minister Marco Mendicino took questions on why he did not implement safeguard measures then.

"I wouldn’t describe it as a hesitation; I think we need to be diligent and thoughtful and inclusive when [we] modernize the tools […] for our national security and intelligence communities," he said, suggesting a timeline on introducing a foreign registry.

In September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also received questions concerning a potential foreign registry.

"This is a complex issue with no easy answers," he said. "And a lot of people have [said] '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's been brought in," he claimed.

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