Ottawa took months to approve CSIS surveillance of Liberal organizer: report

Former Public Safety Minister Bill Blair took months to approve the surveillance of an influential Ontario Liberal powerbroker, despite an alleged association with Beijing.

Ottawa took months to approve CSIS surveillance of Liberal organizer: report
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According to an anonymous national security source, former Ontario Liberal Minister Michael Chan has been the subject of Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) briefings over his supposed ties to China's Toronto consulate and their proxies.

The federal spy agency claims there is a link between him and disgraced Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei, who spearheaded an 'intimidation campaign' against Conservative MP Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong. Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly expelled him from Canada on May 8 after a Globe and Mail expose shed light on the campaign the week before.

According to the source, CSIS has a dossier on Chan concerning his activities during the 2019 and 2021 elections. Chan had several meetings with Zhao described as "clandestine" and election-related. 

In a 2019 CSIS briefing, the prime minister learned they had flagged Chan's Chinese consular connections after International Trade Minister Mary Ng recruited him. 

Security officials told senior staff, including Trudeau's Chief of Staff Katie Telford, that Chan should be on "your radar" and that "someone should reach out to Mary to be extra careful." 

The Globe reported in 2015 that Chan had alleged close ties to the Chinese consulate as far back as 2010. 

In 2021, CSIS sought a section 21 warrant against Chan to access his electronic communications after being under physical surveillance for years, said the source. CSIS and the Justice Department lawyers approved the warrant, but Blair sat on it for four months until June.

The source said the delay left little time for a federal judge to approve the warrant and to figure out how to surveil Chan's communications before the 2021 federal election campaign commenced.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair responded to a Globe inquiry on why it took four months to sign the warrant. He said he could not discuss the Chan matter owing to the Security of Information Act.

"I [will] not discuss that because I [swore] not to do that. I'm not going to do it, and you have your facts wrong," wrote Blair.

Former CSIS director Richard Fadden said it should not have taken months for the minister to sign such a warrant and send it to a judge for approval.

"There is no reason why a warrant cannot be approved within a week unless the minister goes back to CSIS to explain why he requires more information," he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dropped the writ in August 2021 with a vote scheduled for September 20. The Liberals retained their minority government.

The Globe cited allegations from Canada's spy agency in February that China used a "sophisticated strategy" to interfere in the 2021 federal election. Trudeau pivoted when reporters asked about it at a press conference that month.

"We're continually improving and learning how to better keep Canadians and our democracy safe," Trudeau said.

Pointing to measures implemented following the 2019 election, the prime minister said his government "set up both an intelligence task force and a high-level panel consisting of top public servants to be able to ensure that the integrity of our elections is not compromised by foreign interference."

"Good news is that they determined that our election integrity will be held in the 2019 and 2021 elections," he proclaimed.

"It is a standard practice to review the information available and clarify any outstanding questions or concerns before the authorization of such an application," Communications Director Annie Cullinan told The Globe.

She pointed to a 2020 Federal Court ruling that CSIS and the Department of Justice "failed to proactively identify and disclose all relevant facts in support of warrant applications."

Federal Court Justice Patrick Gleeson ruled CSIS failed to disclose how it collected its information, likely retrieved illegally to access a warrant. A review the following June found additional problems, including that Justice Department lawyers failed to provide timely and accessible advice.

Speculation on Chan's role as a political organizer and fundraiser emerged within CSIS before the 2021 election. However, Chan denounced the "shadowy allegations and absurd conspiracy theories" from national security leakers.

"What if CSIS is gathering information to fuel their suspicions from unreliable sources without adequate background checks, disregarding the dangers it creates to a stable society," he told The Globe Thursday.

"All Canadians, particularly minority Canadians who interact with Consular officials, have every reason now to be alarmed about the threat that CSIS poses to our charter of rights and privacies," continued Chan. 

"CSIS has never discussed their concerns with me but continues to unjustifiably harass, intimidate, threaten, and frighten my friends and acquaintances."

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  • By Sheila Gunn Reid

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