The national security advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said she never read a 'secret' pre-election memo warning a Conservative MP had become a target for 'intimidation' by China.
On June 1, Jody Thomas testified before the House affairs committee. She told MPs she never read a July 20, 2021, security memo on MP Michael Chong owing to her month-long vacation.
"I was the only one in the department who could read it, but I didn't need to function as the Deputy Minister of Defence," said Thomas. "There is a difference there."
Before the 2021 federal election, Thomas served as one of three deputy ministers who received the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) memo warning China had targeted MP Michael Chong as part of an 'intimidation campaign.' She said the memo was destroyed unread.
Nevertheless, it became the subject of a Globe and Mail expose that revealed on May 1, a Chinese Ministry of State Security officer desired information on Chong's relatives abroad to impose sanctions on them after the MP tabled a parliamentary motion declaring Beijing's treatment of Uyghurs a "genocide" on February 18, 2021. Beijing allegedly assigned the file to a People's Republic of China (PRC) diplomat in Toronto.
Subsequent disclosure of the memo prompted the May 8 expulsion of Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei from Canada, a spy working at the Chinese consulate in Toronto, reported Blacklock's Reporter.
Conservative MP Michael Cooper profusely questioned Thomas about the memo, noting Trudeau dropped the writ on August 15, 2021.
"That was a month before the federal election campaign involving allegations of interference targeting democratically elected Members of Parliament," said Cooper. "If that doesn't get to the Prime Minister, what does?"
"This is a very significant memo," he continued. "The information contained in it ultimately resulted in a diplomat being expelled from Canada"
Thomas confirmed the memo only went to three deputy ministers and herself.
According to Blacklock's Reporter, Trudeau and his cabinet repeatedly said they first learned of threats by foreign agents after reading a May 1 account in The Globe.
"You want Canadians to believe that?" Cooper asked Thomas. "I don't think the integrity of my statements here and what I said to Mr. Chong is in question," she replied. "It is an absolute fact that the memo was distributed and not briefed to the Prime Minister."
"Was it shared with any ministers?" followed up Cooper. "Not that I am aware of," she said.
The Conservative MP then asked Trudeau's national security advisor if not informing Chong constituted a "serious failure?" She acknowledged Chong "should have been told."
"While CSIS briefed me about foreign interference threat activities, these briefings did not provide any information about specific threats to my family or me," penned Chong in a letter concerning the May 1 report on Chinese interference.
"At a minimum, I would have expected my government to have a duty of care to inform me that my family was being targeted," he said.
Thomas had previously 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 on February 27 from Conservatives demanding an independent public inquiry. On March 23, the Opposition parties voted 172-149 on a non-binding motion in favour of an independent investigation that Trudeau ultimately ignored.
Thomas told the House affairs committee that foreign interference broadly stems from many countries but said China is the 'aggressive player.'
"We cannot paint an overly optimistic picture," she told MPs. "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."
Despite growing concerns, Thomas declined to confirm details from CSIS documents leaked to journalists and later reported, including The Globe expose, that wrote 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.
A Global News report on February 24 named Independent MP Han Dong a "witting affiliate in China's election interference networks." The publication said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) surveilled Dong as early as June 2019, months before his election to Parliament.
A CSIS memo distributed through the Prime Minister's Office named him as a person of concern, with Intelligence urging senior Liberal Party staff to rescind Dong's nomination over alleged foreign interference, which he vehemently denies.
"In a free democracy, it is not up to unelected security officials to dictate to political parties who can or cannot run," Trudeau told reporters.
Thomas cautioned the 'leaks don't tell the whole story,' pointing to the leaks as 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," added Thomas.
On May 23, 'special rapporteur' David Johnston concurred that common interference tactics included 'disinformation' campaigns and the "abuse of human relationships" but clarified that "individual pieces of intelligence must be viewed with skepticism."
He articulated that several leaked materials were "misconstrued" without the "benefit of the full context," adding, "Foreign interference is not usually embodied in discrete one-off pieces of intelligence."