Trudeau's new public safety minister calls Chinese interference inquiry ‘complicated’

'What exactly is the hold up?' asked a reporter. 'I don't think there is a holdup,' replied Minister Dominic LeBlanc. It has been nearly five months since all MPs, except the Liberal caucus, voted for an independent investigation.

Trudeau's new public safety minister calls Chinese interference Inquiry ‘complicated’
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
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Marco Mendocino's successor as public safety minister has started things on the wrong foot by calling a public inquiry into Chinese interference "complicated."

It has been nearly five months since all MPs, but the Liberal caucus, voted for an independent investigation.

After former Governor General David Johnston resigned as special rapporteur — following a contentious review on the necessity of a public inquiry — calls for the said inquiry have intensified.

On May 23, Johnston released his first report on foreign interference, concluding that a public review of classified intelligence "cannot be done." 

However, he recommended that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invite national security agencies to review the conclusions of the Inquiry report and request the three Opposition leaders to those deliberations as part of a "necessary step in transparency and accountability."

It appears Trudeau has taken that advice to heart, having ordered Minister Dominic LeBlanc last month "to work with opposition parties to look at next steps." 

"What exactly is the hold up?" asked a reporter. "I don't think there is a holdup," replied LeBlanc.

"It's a complicated undertaking…but the good news is we've made enormous progress together."

According to Blacklock's Reporter, the minister had conversations with opposition parties on foreign interference earlier this week. "I'm hoping to have conversations again later this week, and I hope to have something important to announce with my colleagues as soon as possible."

Opposition MPs have accused the Cabinet of deliberately stalling an inquiry endorsed by the Commons in three separate votes on March 2, March 23 and May 31. "We want them to end the cover-up," Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre said on June 11. 

"Call a public inquiry."

On March 23, the Commons PROC Committee voted 172-149 in favour of a Public Inquiry. However, the non-binding nature of the motion did not compel the federal government to act.

Poilievre previously dismissed Johnston's appointment, owing to his closeness to Trudeau as a "family friend," claiming the special rapporteur "helped cover up the influence of Beijing in our democracy…to help Trudeau win."

Johnston condemned the "baseless accusations," stating they "diminish trust in our public institutions."

According to anonymous security sources, Chinese diplomats and their proxies worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered "hostile" towards Beijing during the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. 

In his report, Johnston said China poses a "growing threat" for attempting to influence political candidates.

Canadian intelligence has been aware of Chinese interference since before the Soviet Union collapsed, according to a newly released report.

A February 1986 intelligence report warned that Beijing used open political tactics and secret operations to influence and exploit the Chinese diaspora in Canada. It said China used more potent techniques to accomplish these goals.

Top-secret CSIS documents outlined that Beijing directed international Chinese students to volunteer on campaigns and illegally returned portions of donations. They also explained how China spread misinformation and provided undeclared cash donations in the 2021 election.

However, in a February 21, 2020 memo, Cabinet learned that China allegedly operated a "subtle but effective foreign interference network," reported Blacklock's Reporter.

"Trudeau has been briefed on these matters for years and has done absolutely nothing on it for years except to keep it quiet," said Poilievre. 

On May 1, Conservative MP Michael Chong learned that CSIS failed to inform him that a Chinese diplomat targeted his family over a motion to condemn China on its treatment of Uygher Muslims.

"I have received threats I believe may be related to the People's Republic of China, and I will just leave it at that," Chong testified on May 16 at the House affairs committee. "That explains my meetings with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service."

"One of the incidents involved something that happened in the last federal election campaign," he continued. "The other incidents were outside the federal election campaign and involved threats sent to me regarding the People's Republic of China and my travel outside the country."

On May 8, Canada expelled Chinese spy Wei Zaho for targeting Hong Kong relatives of two MPs, including Chong and New Democrat Jenny Kwan. 

According to Blacklock's Reporter, Cabinet admitted to not acting on a 2021 pre-election warning from CSIS claiming Chinese agents had active roles in several federal ridings.

In February, Trudeau deflected questions from the media on foreign interference allegations against Dong. He attributed that line of questioning to "rising anti-Asian racism" predating the pandemic.

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

Johnston testified on June 6 at the committee, acknowledging there were "clearly strange practices" in a 2019 Liberal nomination meeting won by MP Han Dong. 

"With respect to the nomination meeting, there clearly were strange practices, unusual practices going on," he said. Dong admitted to repeatedly contacting the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa and its Toronto consulate.

He resigned a few days later, calling the role 'too cluttered in political controversy' for him to continue.

Another Conservative MP, Kenny Chiu, previously blamed his defeat in the 2021 election on "a coordinated attack against me and my Party" in Chinese-language media. 

He lost the Steveston-Richmond East due to 4,400 fewer Conservative supporters voting for him in 2021 than in 2019 — nearly half translated into Liberal votes.

The lame-duck MP claims his private member's bill to establish a foreign-agent registry provoked China's network in Canada to ensure he did not win in his re-election bid.

"My country did not protect me from foreign interference," Chiu testified on May 10 at the committee.

DisinfoWatch, a foreign disinformation monitoring watchdog, also warned of a coordinated campaign against the Conservatives in 2021. Experts said the campaigns stemmed from WeChat, a Chinese instant messaging service.

"When I [went] door knocking…there have been supporters of mine who just shut the door in my face," said Chiu. "There [was] so much hatred that I sense."

Though Chiu's riding has been hotly contested in previous elections — as he won narrowly in 2019 after losing in 2015 — he remains convinced that foreign interference between the 2019 and 2021 elections contributed to his electoral defeat.

"Between 2015 and 2019, there are four years. Between 2019 and 2021, there are 22 months, and all of that [time] it's all pandemic and full of government scandals," he said.

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