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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, second from left, votes with wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, and children Xavier, Ella-Grace and Hadrien in Montreal, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019.
A Canadian outlet had reported that China had funded a 'clandestine network' of at least 11 federal candidates in 2019's electionImage: Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press/AP/picture alliance

Trudeau: China playing 'games' with Canadian democracy

November 8, 2022

Canada took "significant measures" to strengthen its electoral process, Justin Trudeau said, following reports of Beijing funding Canadian politicians.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that countries including China were playing "aggressive games" with democracies and Canada's institutions.

His comments followed a report by broadcaster Global News in Canada saying that Beijing had funded a "clandestine network" of at least 11 candidates in 2019 federal elections. 

China responded early on Tuesday, with foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian telling reporters that Beijing has "no interest" in Canada's internal affairs. 

"State-to-state relations can only be built on mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit," Zhao said. "China-Canada relations are no exception. Canada should stop making remarks that hurt China-Canada relations." 

What did Trudeau say? 

Citing unnamed intelligence sources, Global News reported that intelligence officials briefed Trudeau and "several Cabinet ministers" in January of this year on Chinese efforts to support election candidates and take other steps to further its influence in the country. 

"We have taken significant measures to strengthen the integrity of our elections processes and our systems, and will continue to invest in the fight against election interference, against foreign interference of our democracies and institutions," Trudeau said. 

"Unfortunately, we're seeing countries, state actors from around the world, whether it's China or others, are continuing to play aggressive games with our institutions, with our democracies," he said.

What did the report allege? 

According to the report, Canadian intelligence claims that China's Toronto consulate "directed a large clandestine transfer of funds to a network of at least 11 federal election candidates and numerous Beijing operatives who worked as their campaign staffers." 

Reportedly, some, but not all, members of the network were knowing affiliates of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

The CCP's United Front Work Department, whose role has been expanded and intensified under President Xi Jinping and which mobilizes society abroad to fulfil CCP objectives, reportedly orchestrated the operations. The body was working out of Chinese consulates and using proxies, to help direct funds into Canada's political system. 

Intelligence briefs allege its networks in Canada also facilitate interference operations by China's foreign espionage service, the Ministry of State Security.

Among several claims, the report said the CCP took particular interest in a February 2021 vote in Canada's House of Commons on labeling China's treatment of its Uyghur minority in Xinjiang province as "genocide." 

Opposition former MP Kenny Chiu, who emigrated to Canada from Hong Kong in 1982, said he believed Chinese agents smeared him as a racist in WeChat and Mandarin-language media reports ahead of February 2021's election. He had advocated for transparent elections in Hong Kong, voted in favor of declaring a genocide in Xinjiang, and tabled a bill calling for a foreing influence registry. 

Low turnout in Hong Kong vote

Chiu said he was given the "distancing treatment" by Chinese media and that "during the campaign people were shutting the door in my face" when he tried to reach local Chinese voters. He would go on to lose the seat he had picked up from Trudeau's Liberal party in 2019, although the contested seat in British Colombia has changed hands in each of Canada's last four federal votes.

The report also touched on possible coercion of Chinese nationals via a program known as Fox Hunt that's nominally designed to combat corruption and persuade economic fugitives to return to face prosecution. Last month, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police also said it was looking into reports of "criminal activity in relation to so-called 'police' stations" operated by China. 

This follows the Spain-based human rights group Safeguard Defenders saying that the offices have been used by Chinese police to carry out operations on foreign soil and pressure Chinese nationals abroad. 

Beijing, meanwhile, says that the locations simply offer services like the renewal of driver's licenses. 

Trudeau said Canada would continue to "make the investments and changes necessary" to preserve Canadian rights, freedoms and values. 

"The world is changing and sometimes in quite scary ways, and we need to make sure that those who are tasked with keeping us safe every single day are able to do that," he said. 

msh/dj (AFP, Reuters)

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