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Chinese Interference Committee | An embittered deputy minister, a cautious CSIS boss



(Ottawa) The allegations of Chinese interference that leaked to the media recall the erroneous information that had circulated about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the right arm of Minister Mélanie Joly protested Thursday. . Before him, the CSIS boss had flatly refused to comment on them.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs David Morrison has launched a full-throttle charge against media reports of Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, lambasting the reliance on sources whose These words are “rumor”, sowing a concern that probably makes Canada’s enemies happy.

Without naming the media whose reports he cut to pieces, the senior official wondered how gestures such as those described in recent weeks by the Globe and Mail And Global News may have been posed while “others, including myself, maintain that there was no detected interference in 2019 or 2021 that threatens Canada’s ability to hold free and fair elections”.

Referring to written notes, Deputy Minister Morrison insisted that the intelligence collected by security agencies “rarely allowed to paint a complete or concrete portrait”, came “almost always with serious caveats”, and was “intended to warn savvy consumers like myself not to jump to conclusions.

He concluded his speech by referring to the information put forward in 2003 before the United Nations by the former American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, about the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq which would be developed Saddam Hussein. “There are glaring historical examples of information that is just plain wrong. The war in Iraq comes to mind,” he said.

“There is nothing our enemies would love more than to divide Canadians,” concluded David Morrison.

Once question period arrived, Bloc Québécois MP Christine Normandin asked him if his remarks should be interpreted as a criticism of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which the principal concerned denied.

CSIS boss

The big boss of CSIS, David Vigneault, had been cooked earlier by the deputies of the committee which is looking into the issue, but he did not bite: no question of invalidating or confirming the allegations which would come from the intelligence agency.

His testimony can be summed up in this sentence: “It is not because information is reported in the media that I am free to speak about it”.

He justified this reservation by arguing that it would be counterproductive to publicly discuss current methods and strategies within CSIS, as this would allow foreign or malicious states, whose tactics are constantly evolving, to adjust in result.

“CSIS takes allegations of unauthorized disclosure of confidential information very seriously. Such breaches can expose sensitive sources, methods and techniques to Canada’s adversaries. They are listening,” he warned in his opening statement.

“Such leaks can ultimately hamper our ability to protect Canadians,” he continued.

Mr. Vigneault was more outspoken when he spoke of the threat posed by Chinese interference in the Canadian democratic process, which operates at “all levels of government: federal, provincial and municipal” and which targets candidates for “all parties combined”.

In this sense, creating a register of foreign agents would be relevant, in his opinion. “I think it would be an important tool. It wouldn’t solve all the problems, but it would be one more tool for transparency, ”said the man who has been in office since 2017.

The head of the spy agency also highlighted the efforts made by CSIS with some of the diasporas in Canada. “People are often caught in this vice, it is on them that we [les régimes autoritaires comme la Chine ou l’Iran] pressure,” he said.

The Elections Commissioner is investigating

The procedure and House affairs committee was meeting for the second time in as many days on Thursday to continue its study of Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

In the first hour, the deputies heard the chief electoral officer, Stéphane Perrault, as well as the commissioner of federal elections, Caroline Simard. The two often had to decline to answer questions, for confidentiality reasons, which frustrated curator Michael Cooper.

In response to his questions, Commissioner Simard nevertheless specified that her office had received 158 complaints, in connection with 10 situations for the 2019 election, and 16 complaints in connection with 13 situations in the case of the 2021 election.

Request for a public inquiry

The committee devoted itself, after three hours of appearances, to the study of New Democrat and Bloc Québécois motions calling for the opening of a public and independent inquiry into China’s interference in the federal election.

The three recognized parties in the House of Commons are now calling for a public inquiry.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has so far refused to grant this request. On Wednesday, before the same committee, his national security adviser, Jody Thomas, insisted on the limits of such an exercise.

“We cannot discuss national security information in a public forum,” she said, arguing that the ideal setting for an investigation is the closed-door National Security Committee of Parliamentarians. and intelligence.

What does David Vigneault think? He is not closed to the idea.

“We use all the platforms available to us […], so whatever the decision, CSIS would be actively involved. Obviously, we must keep in mind the issue of confidential information […] which must remain so,” he replied to a question from a Liberal MP.

The Chinese Embassy in Canada has denied all allegations of interference in the democratic process in a scathing written statement. “The allegations contained in the report are purely unfounded and defamatory,” said a spokesperson for the Beijing mission in Ottawa.

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