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Chinese election interference allegations put Trudeau on the defensive

OTTAWA — Leaked intelligence reports have sparked a political storm. They outline the plans of the Chinese government and its diplomats in Canada to ensure Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party takes power in the last two elections, raising troubling questions about the integrity of Canadian democracy.

But as two prominent Canadian news outlets published a series of leaks over the past month, Trudeau has refused calls for a public inquiry into the matter, angering political opponents and leading to charges that he is covering up foreign attempts to undermine his country’s elections.

The reports present no evidence that the Chinese have implemented any of their plans to interfere or alter the election results. And an independent review released this month as part of Canada’s routine monitoring of election interference confirmed the integrity of the 2019 and 2021 votes.

Even so, the leaks pose a risk of Trudeau appearing weak in the face of potential Chinese aggression and undecided as a leader acting to preserve the integrity of the election. His political opponents accused him of being disloyal to Canada.

As the leaks of information mounted, Mr. Trudeau went from trying to dismiss them and refusing to discuss them because of secrecy laws, to announcing a series of in camera reviews related to election integrity.

Yet he continues to push back against repeated calls for a public inquiry — which would include not just an independent inquiry, but public hearings — arguing that other inquiries are more appropriate. He said he would only open a public inquiry if one of his other reviews concluded it was necessary.

“Canada runs some of the best and most robust elections in the world,” Trudeau told reporters. “All Canadians can have complete confidence that the results of the 2019 and 2021 elections were determined by Canadians, and Canadians alone, in the voting booth.

The Liberals accused the Conservatives of undermining public confidence in Canada’s electoral system by falsely claiming that the government ignored warnings of potential interference from China. The Liberals also accused the Conservatives of using the leaks to stoke fear and suspicion of elected Chinese-Canadians, with the aim of discrediting them and undermining their participation in electoral politics.

The political attacks on Trudeau have been led by the leader of the Conservative Party, who says he poses legitimate threats to Canadian democracy.

“He covered it up, he even encouraged him to continue,” said the leader, Pierre Poilievre, who implied that “the Prime Minister is acting against the interests of Canada and in favor of the interests of a dictatorship foreign”.

Current and past investigations into recent elections are not transparent and in some cases lack independence from the Liberals, Poilievre said.

“He wants to be shut down and controlled and we want an open and independent investigation to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Mr Poilievre told the House of Commons.

A thorough examination of China’s efforts to subvert the Canadian political process – and the corresponding pressures on Mr. Trudeau – began in mid-February after an article appeared in the Globe and Mail, a Toronto newspaper.

According to the newspaper, its reporters had seen unspecified secret and top secret reports from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, commonly known as CSIS, which described Chinese officials’ intentions to manipulate the past two elections. The aim, according to the newspaper’s description of the leaks, was to prevent a victory for the Conservative Party, which the Chinese saw as an excessively hard line on China.

A Chinese consular official has bragged to her superiors that she engineered the defeat of two Tory candidates in 2021, The Globe and Mail reported, although the paper offered no evidence to support her claim.

The Globe and Mail’s articles and reports on Global News, a Canadian-based broadcaster, said the leaks described orders given to Canadian-based Chinese diplomats and, according to the reports, involved 11 of Canada’s 338 electoral districts.

Leaks to both news outlets described illegal cash payments to Liberals and the illegal hiring by Chinese officials or their agents in Canada of international students from China, who were then allegedly introduced to Liberal campaigns as volunteers. Mr Trudeau and other Liberals called the reports “inaccurate”.

Some of the supposed plans would have been difficult to execute in Canada’s electoral system, analysts said, because Canada limits and tightly controls campaign spending and fundraising.

“It comes across as a very unsophisticated understanding of Canadian politics,” said Lori Turnbull, associate professor of political science at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Apart from the fact that they come from the intelligence services, little has been revealed about the exact nature of most of the documents leaked to the two news outlets and it is not clear whether the journalists saw them in their entirety. The sources of the information contained in the intelligence reports have also not been revealed.

“It’s not necessarily proof that a crime took place,” said Stephanie Carvin, a professor of national security studies at Carleton University in Ottawa and a former Canadian government intelligence analyst. “We honestly don’t know. What I feel about this question is that it is a headache. There are a thousand pieces that the service has and we see 10 of them.”

Despite everything, the Conservatives managed to push Mr. Trudeau to his limits, while casting doubt on the allegiance of certain Chinese-Canadian elected officials to the Liberal Party, such as Michael Chan, a former Liberal minister in the provincial government of Ontario. .

Global News reported last month that CSIS said that at Beijing’s request, Mr. Chan had arranged to replace a Liberal MP from Toronto with another candidate.

Mr. Chan called the report nonsense because he never had the authority to orchestrate such a thing. “I don’t know where the hell CSIS gets this information,” he said.

Mr. Chan and other Chinese-Canadian officials have come under increased scrutiny and what he says are false racist accusations that he was under the influence of officials at the Chinese consulate in Toronto.

He asked Mr. Trudeau to open an investigation into the “racial profiling” of the Chinese community by the intelligence service. “The informant who tipped them off was just wrong, completely wrong,” he said.

Trudeau first responded to allegations of Chinese election interference by urging the public to wait for the release of a routine review that Canada uses to monitor foreign interference in elections.

This report, made public on March 2, concluded that while China, Russia and Iran tried to intervene in the 2019 and 2021 elections, they had no effect on their results. But that has not drowned out calls from opposition parties for a public inquiry.

Mr. Trudeau recently announced several measures to address foreign interference. And he has pledged to hold a public inquiry if recommended by a special reviewer who will make recommendations on preventing election subversion.

“We all agree that maintaining confidence in our democratic process in our elections to our institutions is of the utmost importance,” Trudeau said. “It is not and should never be a partisan issue.”

On Friday, The Globe and Mail published an essay it said was written by its source, who was described only as “a national security official”.

The newspaper’s source said he acted because after years of what he saw as a serious escalation in the threat of foreign interference in votes, “it had become increasingly clear that no serious action was contemplated”.

The writer lamented that the political debate sparked by the leaks has been “marked by ugliness and division”, and added that he does not believe that any foreign power has “dictated the current composition of our federal government”. .

David J. Bercuson, director emeritus of the Center for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary in Alberta, said he believes Trudeau will eventually have to authorize a public inquiry.

Mr Trudeau, Professor Bercuson, has yet ‘done nothing to address the growing mistrust’.

nytimes Gt

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