In probing Chinese interference, Canada must beware of hurting its own citizens

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It looks like the Canadian public is about to be put through a massive experiment designed to shape Canadian policy towards China. The goal? To harness the broad powers of state and society in an existential struggle against the Chinese state.

With the recent launch of a public inquiry into foreign interference in the Canadian election process, the Trudeau government has given in to opposition demands to investigate China’s alleged role in the last two elections in Canada ( 2019 and 2021).
If the terms of the inquiry so far are any indication, the unsavoury role and questionable practices of the Canadian intelligence service in bringing about this crisis will largely go unexamined. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), as the main intelligence agency here is known, has a long history of discriminatory practices in its pursuit of alleged threats to national security.

Its role in the return of Canadian citizens of Arabic origin or Muslim faith to their country of persecution is well known and has been investigated by federally appointed commissioners over many years. The investigations concluded the service had exaggerated the threat represented by these citizens and forced the government to pay millions of dollars in compensation.

There is no indication that, despite this dismal record, any reforms or safeguards were put in place to prevent such abuse from occurring again. The prejudicial culture that appears to exist in the CSIS is not limited to people or groups outside it. In 2017, it was sued by employees, who later settled, and accused of racism, homophobia and anti-Muslim discrimination.

This record has not discouraged the CSIS from pursuing other alleged threats. After the Canadian government took little action following intelligence reports of alleged Chinese interference in the Canadian political process, copies of the reports were leaked to the media, triggering a massive storm that has not abated.
David Johnston, Canada’s special rapporteur on foreign interference, holds a press conference about his findings and recommendations in Ottawa, Ontario, on May 23. Photo: Reuters
The government tried to assuage critics of its management of the crisis by naming a special rapporteur earlier this year to investigate the matter. David Johnston’s personal links to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doomed the exercise from the beginning.


In his report, Johnston did not blame the Trudeau government so much as point to a broken communication system between the executive and its intelligence establishment.

Following intense discussions during the summer with opposition parties, the government finally built a consensus around the nomination of a court judge to head a public inquiry that will investigate the matter and provide a final report by the end of 2024, before the next federal elections due in 2025. The commissioner, Quebec Court of Appeal judge Marie-Josee Hogue, is scheduled to take her position on September 18.

If the debate coverage so far is any indication, the outcome of the inquiry is largely a foregone conclusion. It is likely to highlight gaps in the communication of intelligence reports to members of the cabinet, and make recommendations to correct them. Gross Chinese state interference will be further “exposed”.

Most likely, no one will be personally blamed for the communication failures. Yet, there are indications that the bigger problem lies elsewhere.


Chinese Canadians caught in the crossfire as Canada-China tensions rise

Chinese Canadians caught in the crossfire as Canada-China tensions rise

In the public forums where the issue of Chinese interference have been discussed in the past year, a theme kept resurfacing that should have raised public suspicions: whether there was indeed active Chinese interference in Canada’s political process. Media reports tended to take for granted that there was – without providing specific information sources or detailing what was actually exposed.


Testimonies provided by public officials to parliament referred to the fact that the evidence did not provide actionable intelligence, code word for there being nothing criminal. Special rapporteur Johnston came to a similar conclusion in his report to parliament. This should not come as a surprise. The CSIS has a history of stretching the truth in the pursuit of its objectives.

We will see in the months ahead, as the public inquiry carries out its investigation, the extent to which it will attempt to get to the bottom of things. Commissioner Hogue will have the power to hear evidence in camera, thus keeping sensitive intelligence out of public view. But such inquiries can sometimes veer in unexpected directions, and more may be revealed than bargained for.


Beijing says allegations of interference in Canadian election are ‘ridiculous’

Beijing says allegations of interference in Canadian election are ‘ridiculous’

What is troublesome in the public discussion so far is that the fact of interference is taken for granted. No one appears to be disputing it, despite the Chinese government’s strenuous statements to the contrary.


A failure to address the pertinent issues in the alleged Chinese interference in Canada would further victimise people that have suffered greatly since the beginning of this controversy. A number of Canadians of Chinese ethnicity have borne the brunt of the witch hunt, including a member of parliament. It would be ironic should a crackdown on links with the Chinese state to preserve democracy in Canada end up hurting a segment of the Canadian population.

Richard Desjardins retired in 2020 after a 29-year career as a Canadian public servant


EMEA Tribune is not involved in this news article, it is taken from our partners and or from the News Agencies. Copyright and Credit go to the News Agencies, email [email protected]

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