Trudeau's national security advisor admits foreign interference is a 'growing security threat'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's National Security Advisor, Jody Thomas, tells the House affairs committee that foreign interference broadly stems from many countries, though China is the most aggressive player.

Trudeau's national security advisor admits foreign interference is a 'growing security threat'
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has consistently dodged questions about Chinese interference in Canadian elections, going as far as calling the inference "racist." However, his National Security Adviser, Jody Thomas, confirmed that Beijing remains a growing threat to Canada.

Thomas testified in a Conservative-led investigation into alleged Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections at the House affairs committee.

The parliamentary committee quoted media reports that Beijing interfered in Canada's elections through misinformation, illegal donations, and using international student volunteers as proxies to secure a Trudeau victory and minority government.

The Bloc Québécois and New Democrat MPs also joined calls Monday from Conservatives demanding an independent public inquiry.

Thomas told the House affairs committee that foreign interference broadly stems from many countries, though China is the most aggressive player, she said.

"We cannot paint an overly optimistic picture. Things change, and tools and methods change. Our adversaries adapt quickly and find innovative ways to interfere in our affairs, so we must continue to learn."

Ottawa's deputy public safety minister, Shawn Tupper, also admitted to MPs at the parliamentary committee that foreign interference is a growing problem.

"It's more pervasive. It's more aggressive, and the potential for damage to our democracies is much more serious," said Tupper, who confirmed the RCMP has no pending or ongoing criminal investigations from the 2019 or 2021 elections.

Despite admitting growing concerns, Thomas declined to confirm details from Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) documents leaked to journalists and later reported.

The Globe and Mail, citing anonymous security sources, reported that Chinese diplomats and their proxies worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered "hostile" towards Beijing during the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

Though the prime minister said Beijing attempted to meddle in Canada's elections, he referenced two intelligence reports studying foreign influence in elections that said any interference did not affect the outcome of the 2019 and 2021 elections.

Intelligence services also urged senior Liberal Party staff to rescind MP Han Dong's nomination over alleged foreign interference, which he vehemently denies. 

According to Blacklock's Reporter, Global News named Dong a "witting affiliate in China's election interference networks" on February 24.

Global said CSIS surveilled Dong as early as June 2019, months before his election to Parliament, and named him in a CSIS memo distributed through the Prime Minister's Office.

However, Thomas cautioned the leaks don't tell the whole story — also calling the leaks a significant area of concern.

"Given the very nature of intelligence, individual reports taken out of context may be incomplete and misrepresent the full story," she said.

"The unlawful sharing of information and the inappropriate sharing of information jeopardizes our national security. It jeopardizes institutions, and it puts people at risk both, employees and subjects of investigations."

Tara Denham, a director at Global Affairs who served on the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections Taskforce (SITE), said sorting election misinformation from Canadians and foreign powers is a tricky line to draw.

SITE is designed to collect information about possible foreign interference during elections and report it to a panel of senior bureaucrats, who decide whether to go public.

"It could be a foreign entity that is using proxies in different ways to amplify the content, but you need to find the link back to a foreign entity that's directing that," said Denham, who accused the Conservatives of spreading misinformation Wednesday, but didn't clarify if foreign powers were involved.

When asked about Dong and potential foreign influence, Trudeau added: "One of the things we've seen, unfortunately, over the past years is a rise in anti-Asian racism linked to the pandemic and concerns being raised or arisen around people's loyalties."

"There are 1.7 million Canadians who proudly trace their origins back to China. Those Canadians should always be welcomed as full Canadians and encouraged to stand for office."

"In a free democracy, it is not up to unelected security officials to dictate to political parties who can or cannot run," said Trudeau.

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