Foreign meddling a 'stain' on Canada's elections, public inquiry report says

Commissioner Marie-Josee Hogue takes part in public hearings for an independent commission probing alleged foreign interference in Canadian elections
Commissioner Marie-Josee Hogue is leading the commission [Reuters]

Foreign interference is a "stain" on Canada's electoral process and undermined the right to a system free from "coercion or covert influence", a public inquiry has found.

Its report also found that China "stands out as a main perpetrator" of such interference.

The inquiry investigated meddling in Canada's last two general elections, in 2019 and 2021.

But it did not find the outcome of the votes had been affected.

"Our systems remain sound," said Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue at a press conference, following the report's release on Friday.

"Voters were able to cast their ballots, their votes were duly registered and counted, and there is nothing to suggest that there was any interference whatsoever in this regard."

The preliminary report is the first of two expected by the commission.

It explores foreign meddling in the two elections as well as how information on interference was handled by senior officials during the election period.

The report says China "clandestinely leveraged" Canadian officials in an effort to help its "favoured" candidates win office in 2019.

China did so by using Canada-based officials as "proxy agents" to exclude "political candidates perceived as 'anti-China' from attending" local election-related events, the report says.

The report also says intelligence assessments indicated at least two transfers of funds - roughly $250,000 (£192,000) each - from Chinese officials in Canada, "possibly for foreign interference-related purposes".

Another of the foreign-meddling tactics mentioned in the report is the targeting of diaspora Canadians by threatening their families in their countries of origin. It accused both China and Russia.

The 194-page document is based on the first phase of hearings by the inquiry, which in April heard public testimony by witnesses including members of parliament, national security officials, senior government aides and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In his testimony, Mr Trudeau defended his government's efforts to ensure election integrity and said the 2019 and 2021 federal votes were "free and fair" and decided only by Canadians.

The commission also held hearings behind closed doors on classified intelligence related to the matter.

In the public hearings, Canadians learned some of the ways China and other foreign governments could have attempted to interfere in the last two elections.

In one briefing note at the inquiry, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said the Chinese government "clandestinely and deceptively" interfered in both elections.

The intelligence service has cautioned that the declassified information could be single-sourced, incomplete and with "varying degrees of reliability".

Some of the allegations heard by the inquiry include:

  • That Beijing funded a charter bus in 2019 to send Chinese private school students to help a Liberal politician secure his party's nomination, and that the students were coerced to support him. The politician, Han Dong, has denied knowledge of anything improper

  • An attempt to funnel funds from China during the 2019 election to an unnamed candidate's staff member, and then to others, in a possible meddling attempt, according to an unclassified CSIS document

  • Former Conservative leader Erin O'Toole testified that he believed his party lost up to nine seats in 2021 in ridings with large Chinese-Canadian populations due to meddling efforts

  • Conservative MP Michael Chong spoke about how he learned that he was the target of a Chinese campaign over his support for China's Uyghur minority, including disinformation on social media app WeChat

  • In India's case, CSIS said activities were carried out by a proxy agent of the Indian government, and "were centred on a small number of electoral districts" to support pro-India candidates

China and India have repeatedly denied any allegations that they are among the countries that have interfered in Canada's affairs.

Those affected by the alleged meddling efforts have accused officials and CSIS of not doing enough to combat it, or of keeping them in the dark altogether.

There will be more hearings this autumn with a final report by the inquiry expected at the end of the year.