Friday, October 27, 2023

Canada’s Alleged Chinese Interference Questioned


Kenny Chiu, a Member of Parliament in Canada, was surprised when he was contacted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) ahead of the federal election in 2021. He was even more surprised when he was asked to attend an in-person meeting during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The topic of the meeting was sensitive: alleged Chinese interference in Canada’s elections. The CSIS had been concerned about Chinese election interference for decades, and intelligence reports leaked recently suggest that the Chinese government has been spreading disinformation and operating a clandestine network to influence the past two federal elections. The alleged network includes Chinese diplomats, Canadian politicians, business owners, and international students. They are accused of using their influence to support pro-Beijing candidates and scuttle voices critical of China.

Chiu introduced a private member’s bill called the Foreign Influence Registry Act, which would have required individuals working for foreign governments and political organizations to register their communications with Canadian officials if they sought to introduce policy proposals or influence public contracts. However, disinformation was circulated about the bill, saying that it would put Chinese-Canadians in jeopardy and that people with ties to China would risk being fined 400,000 Canadian dollars. Chiu himself was accused of being a sell-out and was accused of racism in spite of his own Chinese heritage. The Canadian disinformation monitor DisInfoWatch found strong indications of a coordinated campaign aimed at influencing Chinese-Canadian voters during the 2021 election.

One Liberal Party MP, Han Dong, was identified among the leaks as having private meetings with the Chinese consul general in Toronto, Han Tao. National security sources accuse Dong of encouraging China to delay freeing two Canadians who were detained in 2018 on espionage charges. Dong has denied he made any such suggestions but confirmed that he did speak with the consul general. His office did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment, and Dong has since stepped down from the Liberal Party, serving instead as an independent.

Reports have shown that cases of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia rose in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic and afterwards, resulting in an increased sense of insecurity among Canadians of Asian heritage. Beijing has been able to play on such concerns, dismissing criticism of its interference efforts as further evidence of anti-Asian bias. Some advocates believe the interference extends well beyond Canada’s electoral system. In 2019, Canadian activist Rukiye Turdush said she uncovered evidence that students planned to obstruct a talk she gave at Ontario’s McMaster University, in collaboration with Chinese officials. Turdush, a member of the Uighur ethnic group, had given a talk about the situation in Xinjiang, the far western region of China where some 1 million Uighurs have been held in reeducation camps, according to the United Nations.

In 2022, the Spanish NGO Safeguard Defenders released a report revealing a global network of more than 100 so-called overseas police service stations, operating on behalf of the Chinese government. It identified three sites in Toronto alone, with other locations believed to be in Montreal and Vancouver. The presence of such police stations does not surprise Toronto resident Mimi Lee, a member of the NGO Torontonian HongKongers Action Group. The Chinese government’s influence is pervasive, she said. “The interference from the Chinese government exists from top to bottom in Canada today.”

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