(OTTAWA) The big boss of CSIS, the agency from which the Chinese foreign interference leaks dominating the news these days, was cooked by the members of the committee examining the issue, but he did not bite: no question of invalidating or confirming the allegations.
The testimony of the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), David Vigneault, can be summed up in this sentence he uttered near the beginning of his appearance: “It is not because information is reported in the media that I am free to talk 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.
The committee will hear last hour from Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Morrison, before devoting itself to the study of New Democrat and Bloc Québécois motions calling for the opening of a public and independent inquiry into Chinese interference. in federal elections.
All against Trudeau
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.