PMO staffers dismiss intelligence on foreign interference

As intelligence reports surfaced of certain PRC officials in Canada voicing a preference for a Liberal Party minority government, senior PMO officials disregarded and even questioned the accuracy of intelligence concerns.

PMO staffers dismiss intelligence on foreign interference
The Canadian Press / Adrian Wyld
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The Commission on Foreign Interference revealed concerning dismissals of credible intel on foreign meddling by Canadian intelligence.

Katie Telford, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's chief of staff, alongside Deputy Chief of Staff Brian Clow, and advisers Jeremy Broadhurst and Patrick Travers, testified that staff, including Trudeau, dismissed intelligence relayed to them by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

On March 20, 2023, a meeting between senior PMO staff, the director of CSIS and an analyst from the spy agency, drew skepticism from PMO officials on the evidence presented to them.

"In this particular meeting there wasn't new information presented, it was a deep dive into different topics including Don Valley North," the riding that alleged China-aligned Liberal MP Han Dong currently represents, said Broadhurst. "There was a back and forth where we questioned some of what was being told to us," he added.

Broadhurst stated that the PMO was presented information from CSIS that was wrong. 

"There was specific information presented to us that we believe was wrong and in the case of the meeting with the prime minister, definitely wrong," he furthered. 

In a shocking revelation Broadhurst, who served as the Liberal Party’s campaign director, received CSIS reporting on the 2019 nomination of Han Dong in Don Valley North that he disregarded.

Broadhurst advised the Prime Minister to take no further action, even though it detailed foreign interference by Chinese proxies. 

"We examined our own nomination process ... And based on that review we saw nothing that stood out as irregular," said Trudeau's adviser. "Having done a lot of these donations, you do sometimes see irregularities."

"At the end of the day there's a limit to what the party can do. We aren't a forensic organization," he added.

On Wednesday, the Commission on Foreign Interference tabled documents which claimed the presence of Liberal executives at the member of Parliament’s nomination vote. Azam Ishmael, national director of the Liberal Party, testified he was satisfied there were no irregularities in Don Valley North.

"People who ordinarily reside within the riding are allowed to vote in our nomination meetings," he said. "The only thing that catches me as a bit peculiar is that it was organized by the school given it was a partisan political event," he added.

According to the inquiry, Dong’s campaign bused foreign students from New Oriental International College Academy in Markham, Ontario, which is not located in Don Valley North.

"I didn’t understand it as an irregularity," he testified last Tuesday. Dong could not recall whether all those students voted for him but believes it is likely most did, a Supplementary statement from the day prior reads.

A confidential Intelligence memo disclosed at the time said that Toronto’s Chinese Consulate helped the incumbent member of Parliament win his nomination.

While Dong flip-flopped on the incident, his then-campaign manager, Ted Lojko, questioned their voting eligibility. "Realistically unless they were permanent residents and had some form of ID, they would not be eligible to vote," he said.

The riding’s Liberal association did not maintain any record keeping of delegates who attended the nomination meeting.

During the China inquiry, Telford was told the governing Liberals were China's party of preference in the 2019 and 2021 general elections.

"In 2021, there was reporting that some individual PRC officials in Canada made comments expressing a preference for a Liberal Party minority government," lead Commission counsel Shantona Chaudhury told Trudeau's chief of staff, who called the information surprising.

"It was surprising to us when we learned this much, much later, that this intelligence existed," replied Telford. "It didn't add up for us when we did see this," she said. "Given the state of relations between the two countries at the time."

"We were all actively working on trying to get the two Michaels home to Canada," claimed the senior government official, referring to Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadian diplomats who were detained in Chinese custody on espionage-related charges for years.

"We were rallying countries around the world to show up alongside Canada in courthouses in China in support of the two Michaels who had been arbitrarily detained," she said.

Telford showed the Commission hand-written notes she penned, expressing worry on amplifying the Conservative Party's narrative and concerns about foreign interference from China.

"There is a strong case to be made that there was a degree of influence exerted by an outside actor in the Chinese community during the 44th general election," the Conservative Party allege in a secret Memorandum For The Clerk Of The Privy Council. It disclosed 13 ridings suspected of foreign interference that favoured Liberal candidates last election, including Dong's riding of Don Valley North.

The Official Opposition stated, "From speaking with campaign teams and regional organizers we believe this influence negatively impacted our standing in these seats."

Tedford was asking about her notes on this, one in particular that included a line about "amplifying the CPC narrative." She admitted hesitance in boosting Conservative concerns about foreign interference, initially misattributing it to the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Commission findings indicate that the PRC targeted Conservatives, not Liberals.

This article has been updated for clarity. 
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