Canada’s investigation into China election interference allegations dismissed

Canada’s investigation into China election interference allegations dismissed

  • By Nadine Yousif
  • BBC News, Toronto

source of images, Getty Images


Former Canadian Governor General David Johnston has recommended that a formal inquiry be opened into allegations of Chinese interference

An independent special rapporteur said Canada should hold public hearings into China’s foreign interference, but refrained from recommending a full public inquiry.

The advisory is in response to allegations that China attempted to interfere in Canada’s last two federal elections.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has come under pressure to launch a formal investigation.

Chinese officials have previously denied any interference, calling the accusations “libelous”.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Special Rapporteur David Johnston said foreign governments are “undoubtedly trying to influence candidates in Canada.”

However, he said a public inquiry into that influence would not be possible due to the sensitivity of the information involved.

“What enabled me to determine whether there was indeed interference cannot be disclosed publicly,” Mr Johnston said. “A public review of classified information simply cannot be done.”

Mr Johnston said launching an inquiry “would have been an easy choice” but “would not have been the right one”, given that Canadians expect full transparency from a public inquiry.

Instead, he recommended a series of public hearings to discuss what he described as “serious governance and policy issues” in Canada regarding the detection and deterrence of foreign interference.

Johnston said he reached his conclusions after reviewing classified intelligence reports and interviewing senior politicians and Canadian Security Intelligence Service officials.

In March, the Prime Minister appointed Mr. Johnston, a former Governor General of Canada, as a special rapporteur to investigate allegations of interference.

Mr Trudeau said he would take Mr Johnston’s advice on the need for a formal investigation.

Mr. Johnston’s report was criticized by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who accused the special rapporteur of being friendly with Mr. Trudeau and of not being impartial on the file.

“We need a full public inquiry to uncover Beijing’s influence on our democracy,” Poilievre told a news conference.

Mr Johnson called the attacks on his integrity “baseless accusations”.

The foreign interference allegations stem from a steady stream of reports, mostly based on intelligence leaks, in Canadian media that detail allegations of Chinese interference in the country’s last two federal elections, in 2019 and 2021.

These efforts are not believed to have altered the outcome of the two general elections.

Mr Trudeau has faced pressure from his political rivals to launch a public inquiry into the claims. Although Johnston agreed that foreign interference was a problem in Canada, he said some of the media reports of the interference allegations were based on limited information and lacked context.

He also said he found no examples of the prime minister or other ministers “knowingly ignoring intelligence, advice or recommendations on foreign interference”.

Intelligence reports also detailed accusations that Beijing targeted a member of parliament and his family in Hong Kong after the politician accused China of human rights abuses.

In response, Canada declared diplomat Zhao Wei “persona non grata” earlier this month and ordered him to leave the country.

The next day, China ordered the dismissal of Canadian diplomat in Shanghai, Jennifer Lynn Lalonde.

China has repeatedly denied interfering in Canadian politics and accused Canada of “slander and defamation” following the expulsion of its diplomat.

The issue has put a strain on the already difficult diplomatic relations between the two countries.

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