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The Trudeau government is actively obstructing efforts to shine a public light on Beijing's interference at the core of Canada's democratic processes. Why?
Here’s how bad it’s got. It was just another day in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “post-national” state, and the proceedings of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs collapsed in chaos on Tuesday after the Liberals moved to hobble the committee’s ability to elicit documents related to Beijing’s clandestine interference in the 2021 federal election.
It was ugly. Here’s how ugly.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino have more than once insinuated that alarms about Beijing’s interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections are a ploy in a Trump-style strategy to undermine public confidence in the legitimacy of democratic election outcomes. That should show you just how badly Team Trudeau wants us all to shut up about what Beijing has been up to in Canada, and to stop asking how much Trudeau and his ministers know about it.
The same nasty imputation of bad faith was taken up Tuesday by House Affairs Committee member Jennifer O’Connell, MP and parliamentary secretary to Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc. The Conservatives’ alarms about the recent surfacing of intelligence-agency reports detailing Beijing’s election-interference operations in 2021 are “the same Trump-type tactics, to question election results moving forward,” O’Connell said.
The contents of the CSIS assessments the Globe and Mail broke open last Friday are genuinely shocking, but the backstory in this newsletter is more about the forest than the trees. Canada’s “friends of China” come into it, and as a public service I’m going to be listing some of the more recognizable names in that circle in the next Real Story newsletter, below a paywall (sorry not sorry).
A Brief Intermission: The Real Story Is a Year Old This Week.
A year ago pretty much to the day I launched this newsletter as a kind of supplement to my work in the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post and a substitution for my perch at Macleans, which vanished at exactly the same time that venerable old mag ditched Paul Wells, Jason Markusoff, Marie-Danielle Smith, Charlie Gillis, Philippe J. Fournier, Colin Campbell, Alison Uncles, Shannon Proudfoot, Aaron Hutchens and John Geddes. I don’t even read Macleans anymore, sad to say. Does anyone?
I really should write up a Real Story retrospective or a taking-stock of some sort. The Real Story liftoff came right at the denouement of the Truckist “occupation” of Ottawa, and just as a full-blown war was about to break out in Europe. Speaking of which, last week’s column in the Post and the Citizen: It was Justin Trudeau who picked the fight with the Truckists.
I think I anticipated the Rouleau report well enough, reckoning that Rouleau might figure a way to find in favour of the Trudeau government’s decision to suspend the ordinary operation of the law across Canada for several days last year. Rouleau’s word won’t be the last as far as the law goes though. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is challenging the Emergencies Act in court next month. If it’s of particular interest to you, after you’re done reading this newsletter I’d recommend downloading and reading this clearly-written and compelling elucidation of the CCLA’s case, right here, in Ebook format. I’m on Team CCLA in all this, obviously.
Anyway, happy birthday to us, Real Story subscribers!
A recurring theme of this newsletter has been dezinformatsiya, as our Russian dissident friends call it. And I think that’s where I’ve been most useful, as in When White People Lose Their Minds (Year of the Graves), The Zombie Apocalypse that Wasn’t, Some Overdue News About the News, About Trust In The Media, Especially the CBC, National Security in a Post-National State, that kind of thing.
I can keep doing this so long as I’ve got paid subscribers backing me up. I try to avoid putting up a paywall, but hey, this is hard work. So do please take out a paid sub (click here and pick a plan) if you don’t already, renew your subscription when it comes up for renewal, and you can also gift a sub for a chum if you’ve already got one of your own.
Now, where was I. Oh yes.
Justin Trudeau’s National-Security Bonspiel of the Vanities
I’ve been covering Beijing’s influence-peddling rackets in the highest levels of Canadian political, corporate and academic circles for well over a decade now, and I haven’t seen anything quite like this. There’s no way of sugar-coating it.
In recent weeks, Trudeau and Mendicino have gone to such creepy lengths to downplay, dismiss and even cover up the extent of Beijing’s election monkeywrenching that it’s become impossible to paper over a deep rupture that has opened up in the relationship between the Prime Minister’s Office and the senior ranks of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.
That rupture will only get deeper now that Trudeau’s response to the revelations about the Chinese Communist Party’s 2021 election-jimmying operation is: CSIS needs to shut the hell up. The Globe’s access to the contents of those CSIS reports is “certainly a sign that security within CSIS needs to be reviewed,” Trudeau said last Friday. “And I’m expecting CSIS to take the issue very seriously.”
This isn’t how a government goes about its professed devotion to “transparency and accountability.” Count on it: the breakdown in the CSIS-PMO relationship is severe enough that intelligence officials are already familiarizing themselves with the “public interest” exemptions in the Security of Information Act - the 1985 successor to the Official Secrets Act.
It’s a rigmarole, but Section 15 of the Act provides that no 14-year jail sentence will be doled out to a responsible CSIS officer who can show that the public interest was served in greater measure in the Act’s breach than in compliance with it.
The PMO and CSIS simply aren’t on the same page when it comes to either the public interest or national security.
That was obvious in the Trudeau government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act last year despite the CSIS finding that national security was not threatened by the Truckist protests. But the fault line has always run deepest right through Trudeau’s weird intimacies with the Chinese Communist Party. The rift was in sharp relief and in plain sight last November, after Sam Cooper’s story broke.
Sam’s the Global News’ investigative reporter who blew everything up last November by reporting on briefing notes that revealed that the Trudeau government had been sitting on CSIS reports for nearly a year detailing an elaborate interference operation that Beijing had run in the 2019 federal election. Sam’s report set out how Beijing had funded and mobilized a network of operatives around at least 11 candidates and the offices of several incumbent MPs in the Greater Toronto Area. It was a shocker.
In the aftermath, Trudeau had insisted that CSIS had all the tools it needed to deal with “state actors from around the world, whether it’s China or others” that “play aggressive games with our institutions, with our democracies. . . There are already significant laws and measures that our intelligence and security officials have to go against foreign actors operating on Canadian soil.”
But only a week earlier, CSIS director general for Intelligence Assessments Adam Fisher told the House Affairs committee the exact opposite, that Canada’s intelligence agencies don’t even have “the tools to understand the threat,” that a total “rethink” was in order: “Our act was designed in 1984 and it has not had significant changes or amendments,” Fisher said.
Trudeau’s antagonism towards the intelligence community’s exertions on sanctions evasion, money-laundering and terrorism financing hasn’t exactly helped, either. Just ask Charities Intelligence Canada. Real Story subscribers got the inside story on all that last month. Just ask the Research and Analysis Division of the Canada Revenue Agency’s Charities Directorate, CSIS, the RCMP and Department of Finance investigators.
It’s fairly routine for CSIS case officers to complain that the intelligence they procure goes up the line and nothing much seems to come of it. But what’s happening right now is not even close to routine. This is a much bigger deal than the calumny former CSIS director Richard Fadden had to endure back in 2010 after he disclosed that provincial cabinet ministers in B.C. and Ontario had come under Beijing’s sway.
Given the many smoking-gun details in the CSIS files made available to the Globe and Mail, it’s perhaps understandable that the Trudeau cabinet’s efforts to hush everything up has garnered less attention. The collapse in the CSIS-PMO relationship has gone mostly unnoticed. So let’s notice something here, shall we?
The CSIS files that the Trudeau government doesn’t want the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to see have already been seen by senior officials in the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand (Canada’s Five-Eyes intelligence partnership). Some of the details have been shared with French and German intelligence agencies. And now the files’ contents have also been divulged to the intrepid Bob Fife and Steven Chase at the Globe and Mail.
The Liberals don’t want those files divulged, and they made it clear on Tuesday that they don’t want the public to see any memoranda, briefing notes, e-mails or records of conversations about any efforts “by or on behalf of foreign governments or other foreign state actors to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 general elections, including the documents which were quoted in the Globe and Mail reports,” and so on.
The committee will at least get to invite Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and LeBlanc and Mendicino to come and chat again, along with Elections Canada officials and CSIS officials and the Mounties.
Everybody who pays attention to these things has been well aware that Beijing orchestrated massive propaganda and disinformation operations during the 2019 and 2021 elections with the aim of ensuring that the Conservatives would lose. Beijing’s friends and proxies were active in those operations.
Key among them, and hardly worth even mentioning, is the disgraced former Liberal cabinet minister and former ambassador John McCallum, who admitted to the South China Morning Post that in advance of the 2019 elections he was counseling his former interlocutors in China’s diplomatic service in how Beijing should behave in order to more certainly assure a Liberal victory at the polls. I mention this mainly to show how the Liberal skeeziness of enlisting Beijing’s help at the polls had become so normalized by 2019 that McCallum was content to openly admit to engaging in the practice, which is borderline criminal.
Last November, Real Story subscribers got a fairly complete naming of names in that high-society network of Liberals and Chinese agents of influence that Sam was on about in his November blockbuster. It goes back even farther than the lucrative Liberal Party racket that put Prime Minister Trudeau at the banquet tables of Chinese billionaires in that cash-for-access scandal that one is nowadays expected to avoid mentioning in polite company.
Trudeau claimed to know little to nothing about the CSIS reports in Sam Cooper’s bombshell story about Beijing’s 2019 operation, but the story nevertheless inspired our prime minister to perform a bizarre interpretive dance routine for Chinese supreme leader Xi Jinping in Bali. And that’s what spurred the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs into action.
The committee hasn’t seen much return on its effort so far beyond reams of heavily-redacted documents. But now the committee is expanding its brief to look into Beijing’s covert operations in the 2021 federal election, too. Good luck to the committee.
The CSIS files in the Globe and Mail account show that the agency was well aware that “an orchestrated machine” was in operation in the 2021 election to the purpose of securing a Liberal minority government, mainly by leveraging Chinese-Canadians “while obfuscating links to the People’s Republic of China.” The files show that China’s consul-general in Vancouver at the time, Tong Xiaoling, boasted that the operation had defeated two Conservative MPs (obviously the Richmond MPs Kenny Chiu and Alice Wong). And that’s just a detail.
The revelations in last Friday’s Globe and Mail are gobsmacking. Among other things, they reveal a sophisticated strategy involving under-the-counter payment of foreign-student activists and illegal top-ups of tax-deductible campaign donations.
The thing is, it’s not even news that Beijing was running an election-subversion operation in 2021. The Atlantic Council’s Forensic Research Lab found that Beijing-directed hatchet jobs were country-wide: “China-linked actors took an active role in seeking to influence the September 20, 2021 parliamentary election in Canada, displaying signs of a coordinated campaign to influence behaviour among the Chinese diaspora voting in the election.” Canada’s own DisinfoWatch was onto it too. I wrote about it at the time. Headline: China's disinformation campaign against Canada's election is undeniable.
But CSIS knew - of course CSIS knew - and CSIS knew a hell of a lot more than any of us, and that’s the public service Fife and Chase have done for us all in the Globe. Either by some black magic of bureaucratic inertia or incompetence, Trudeau has been able to play dumb, like he didn’t know the details, or at other times he implies that he did know, but hey, big deal, this sort of thing happens all the time, and now CSIS better start plugging its leaks.
That’s the bigger story here. Rather than come clean with the public about the scope and extent of what CSIS has discovered about Beijing’s illegal operations in Canada - operations that were put to the purpose of a Liberal re-election and the defeat of targeted Conservative candidates - the Trudeau government is going after CSIS.
The documents the Globe got to look at showed that in the months after the 2021 election, when there was a lot of heat being drawn to Beijing’s subterfuge, Chinese diplomats quietly issued warnings to certain “friendly” influential Canadians, suggesting that they back off in their contacts with federal politicians lest they get picked up on CSIS radar in the course of the agency’s foreign-interference investigations.
Well, golly. I wonder who these influential friends of China could be?
Stay tuned for your next Real Story newsletter!
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