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A timeline of China’s alleged interference in recent Canadian elections

March 9 2023

Re-printed without permission.

On March 6, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered two closed-door probes into Chinese election interference that will be reviewed by a special rapporteur after facing growing calls to investigate Beijing’s influence activities. It’s the latest development in a culmination of reports from The Globe and Mail and Global News on China’s alleged meddling in the 2021 and 2019 Canadian elections.

Here’s a timeline of how the events have unfolded.

May 6, 2022

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service building in Ottawa.SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) says in its 2021 annual report that foreign interference threats accelerated in 2021.

The spy agency said efforts by foreign states to steal intellectual property from Canadian researchers and companies were “persistent and sophisticated” and contributed to a “mounting toll on the country’s vital assets and knowledge-based economy.”

It warned that foreign interference threats in Canada – to shape public policy or harass dissidents – as well as espionage “increased in scale, scope and complexity” in 2021.

Oct. 21, 2022

Canada’s Innovation Minister says he believes there’s a Western consensus forming to decouple from, or reduce trade with, China and other authoritarian countries. François-Philippe Champagne, speaking before a business audience in Washington at a “fireside chat” event sponsored by groups including the Canadian embassy, the Canadian American Business Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is the second federal cabinet minister to talk publicly about decreasing trade with countries such as China and Russia.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, speaking in Washington on Oct. 11, also talked of the need to embrace policies that shift trade to friendly partners and like-minded democracies: a “friend-shoring” approach that would reduce commercial relations with adversarial countries.

Oct. 27, 2022

A recently unsealed indictment in the United States alleges that Beijing’s overseas campaign to put pressure on Chinese nationals to return and face criminal charges in China includes enforcement efforts on Canadian soil.

These U.S. accusations have come to light about six weeks after Spain-based human-rights group Safeguard Defenders alleged that three of China’s more than 50 overseas police stations are operating in Toronto. China’s embassy in Canada has denied this.

Nov. 3, 2022

The embassy of the People's Republic of China in Ottawa.SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A senior official at Canada’s spy agency tells members of Parliament that China is the “foremost aggressor” when it comes to foreign interference in Western countries and “works within” their political systems “to corrupt” them.


Adam Fisher, CSIS director-general of intelligence assessments, says to a House of Commons committee investigation into foreign interference in elections that Russia and China “tend to be the two big players” – though they differ in their methods.

Moscow, Mr. Fisher said, tends to employ methods that erode confidence in Western political systems. “Russia is more inclined toward disrupting and undermining our system of government through messaging that casts what is happening in some doubt.” Beijing, on the other hand, prefers to work its way into Western political systems, he said.

Nov. 7, 2022

A report from Global News indicates the CSIS warned the Prime Minister that China has been targeting Canada with a foreign-interference campaign, including Beijing allegedly providing cash for 11 federal candidates in the 2019 election.

Mr. Trudeau later said this was incorrect and he had never been briefed on this. National-security adviser Jody Thomas also said there was no evidence of money going to candidates. She told a parliamentary committee in December “that we have not seen money going to 11 candidates, period.”

Nov. 15, 2022

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Leaders Summit in Bali, Indonesia.SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

At the G20 summit in Indonesia, Mr. Trudeau approaches President Xi Jinping about serious concerns of China’s alleged interference in Canada. Mr. Xi later berated the Prime Minister for releasing what he considered to be a private conversation.

Nov. 26, 2022

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly unveils a long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy that promises to bolster the ability of national-security agencies to combat foreign influence in the region and in Canadian affairs.

Ottawa will provide nearly $230-million over the next five years to expand the capacity of Canadian intelligence and cybersecurity agencies to work closely with partners in the Indo-Pacific region and also to protect “Canadians from attempts by foreign states to influence them covertly or coercively,” according to the national-security chapter provided to The Globe and Mail.

Nov. 28, 2022

Commissioner Brenda Lucki says the RCMP is investigating broad foreign interference by China in Canadian affairs, but declines to detail precisely what type of activities are being probed by the federal police force.

Nov. 29, 2022

The Globe reports that the Prime Minister said he’s never received any intelligence that China allegedly funded federal candidates in the 2019 election, but sidestepped repeated questions about whether he was ever informed of efforts by Beijing to interfere in Canadian elections or domestic politics.

Dec. 21, 2022

Canadian Security Intelligence Service Director David Vigneault makes his way to the Procedure and House Affairs committee on Parliament Hill.ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Globe reports that the Prime Minister received a national-security briefing during the fall in which he was told China’s consulate in Toronto had targeted 11 candidates – nine Liberals and two Conservatives – in the 2019 federal election.

CSIS Director David Vigneault told Mr. Trudeau that there was no indication that China’s interference efforts had helped elect any of the candidates, despite the consulate’s attempts to promote the campaigns on social media and in Chinese-language media outlets.

Jan. 30, 2023

The Globe reports that Canadian universities have for years conducted joint research with Chinese military scientists on hundreds of advanced-technology research projects.

Researchers at 50 Canadian universities have collaborated with and published joint scientific papers with scientists connected to China’s military, generating knowledge that can help drive China’s defence sector in cutting-edge, high-tech industries.

Feb. 14

Ottawa announces it will no longer fund research with Chinese military and state-security institutions and is urging the provinces and universities to adopt similar national-security measures.

Feb. 17

An arrow points to where people can go to cast their ballots on federal election day in Montreal, on Sept. 20, 2021.GRAHAM HUGHES/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Globe reports, based on CSIS documents, that China employed a sophisticated strategy to disrupt Canada’s democracy in the 2021 election campaign.

The CSIS documents reveal that the campaign’s primary goals were to ensure that a minority Liberal government was returned in 2021, and to defeat Conservative politicians considered to be unfriendly to Beijing.

Feb. 18

Secret and top-secret CSIS documents viewed by The Globe reveal how China sought to protect its network of “Canadian friends” – a community it relies on to build relations, influence and covertly gather information from MPs and senators.

Chinese diplomats quietly issued warnings to “friendly” influential Canadians in early 2022, advising them to reduce their contact with federal politicians to avoid being caught up in foreign-interference investigations by Canada’s spy agency.

Feb. 20

Highly classified CSIS documents seen by The Globe paint a picture of a broad Chinese strategy to interfere in Canada’s democracy and gain influence over politicians, corporate executives, academics and vulnerable Chinese Canadians.

The documents reveal that Beijing’s ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses three colour-coded “political-interference tactics” to gain influence over Canadians here and those travelling to China:

  • Blue refers to sophisticated cyberattacks on targets’ computers, smartphones and hotel rooms for possible blackmail;

  • Gold refers to bribes;

  • Yellow refers to what CSIS described as “honey pots” – how the CCP employs sexual seduction to compromise targets.

Feb. 20

A House of Commons committee probing Chinese interference in the 2019 federal election is recalled during Parliament’s scheduled two-week break to extend its mandate to include the 2021 campaign.

Feb. 21

A Globe report reveals that the Canadian military found and retrieved Chinese monitoring buoys in the Arctic this past fall. The buoys were spotted by the Canadian Armed Forces as part of Operation Limpid, a continuing effort to provide early detection of threats to Canada’s security.

Feb. 23

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks to the media in Hamilton, Ont.NICK IWANYSHYN/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland raises national-security concerns about Wealth One Bank of Canada, telling three of its founding shareholders that they could be susceptible to Chinese government coercion, according to a Globe investigation.

Feb. 26

Two former advisers to Mr. Trudeau, as well as NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, call for a non-partisan public inquiry into Chinese state-directed interference into the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. The Prime Minister ruled out a public inquiry a day earlier, saying he was satisfied with hearings being conducted by a parliamentary committee.

Feb. 28

The Globe reports that Chinese billionaire Zhang Bin pledged $200,000 in 2016 to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation after CSIS captured a conversation between him and an unnamed diplomat at one of China’s consulates in Canada.

March 1

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation said it returned the money from Mr. Zhang after a Globe report that the pledge was part of a Chinese-directed influence operation targeting the current prime minister.

President and CEO Pascale Fournier said in a statement on its website that the foundation is returning $140,000 of a $200,000 pledge. The foundation received two payments of $70,000 each but never received the rest of the money, she said.

March 2

David Vigneault, the director of CSIS, says an investigation is under way to find the whistle-blowers who leaked highly classified information on Chinese election interference to The Globe and Mail and Global News.

March 2

Canadian and Chinese flags.POOL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

A report based on the work of a panel of senior public servants determines that efforts to meddle in the 2021 federal election did not affect the outcome of the vote.

“National-security agencies saw attempts at foreign interference, but not enough to have met the threshold of impacting electoral integrity,” Morris Rosenberg, a former deputy minister of foreign affairs, wrote in the report for the federal government.

March 3

Opposition parties team up to pass a parliamentary committee motion calling for an independent probe into foreign interference. Liberal MPs on the procedure and House affairs committee opposed the motion but were outvoted by the Conservatives, New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois. The motion is non-binding.

March 6

Trudeau initiates two closed-door probes into Chinese election interference that will be reviewed by a special rapporteur. The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians will study China’s interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections. The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency will examine how investigations into Chinese election meddling have been handled.

March 6

The RCMP announces that an investigation has begun into the intelligence leaks behind the media reports on foreign interference. The RCMP said it is looking into violations of the Security of Information Act and wasn’t investigating the alleged interference itself.

March 7

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons.BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre accuses Mr. Trudeau of playing into China’s hands by refusing to hold a public inquiry on foreign interference.

“We want an open and independent public inquiry to get to the truth and make sure it never happens again,” he said during a news conference.

March 7

Liberal MPs mount a filibuster to stop the opposition from calling the Prime Minister’s chief of staff to testify before the House of Commons committee studying Beijing’s election meddling.

March 8

The Globe reports that Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly rejected a visa for a Chinese diplomat in the fall of 2022 on grounds of foreign interference.

The Globe also reported that China is trying to smooth relations with Canada. Wang Shouwen, a high-ranking Chinese official, led a delegation to Ottawa this week where he met with senior figures including David Morrison, deputy minister of foreign affairs, as well as Rob Stewart, deputy minister of international trade. Mr. Wang is a senior Chinese Communist Party official at the Ministry of Commerce and serves as vice-minister of commerce as well as the China International Trade Representative.

The government declined to identify the officials whom Mr. Wang met with at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and at Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), which is in charge of vetting foreign takeovers.

March 13

The Globe reports that Beijing is using a “workaround strategy” for postgraduate researchers to study cutting-edge technology at Canadian and U.S. universities after Washington began denying visas for some Chinese students on the grounds that they might steal intellectual property with military uses, according to a CSIS report.

March 15

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tapped former governor general David Johnston to look into allegations that China meddled in Canada's two last elections.GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Mr. Trudeau announced Wednesday that former governor-general David Johnston will take on the role of special rapporteur to review the findings of two closed-door panels that Ottawa set up to investigate Beijing’s interference activities in the 2019 and 2021 elections.

“David Johnston brings integrity and a wealth of experience and skills, and I am confident that he will conduct an impartial review to ensure all necessary steps are being taken to keep our democracy safe and uphold and strengthen confidence in it,” Mr. Trudeau said in a statement.

March 16

The Globe reports that China’s Vancouver consulate interfered in the 2022 municipal election, according to CSIS.

A Jan. 2022 CSIS report viewed by The Globe outlines how China’s then-consul-general, Tong Xiaoling, discussed “grooming” Chinese-Canadian municipal politicians for higher office to advance Beijing’s interests. Ms. Tong sought to elect pro-Beijing politicians to city council in the October 2022 municipal election in which incumbent mayor Kennedy Stewart lost to Ken Sim by margin of nearly 37,000 votes. Mr. Sim expressed outrage after the disclosure. “If I was a Caucasian male, we’re not having this conversation,” he said.

March 17

B.C. Premier David Eby said he was disturbed by secret documents describing Beijing’s efforts to interfere in Vancouver’s mayoral election and had requested a briefing with CSIS.

March 22

Toronto MP Han Dong announced he is leaving the federal Liberal caucus to sit as an independent shortly after Global News published a report that Mr. Dong privately advised a senior Chinese diplomat in February, 2021, that China should delay the release of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Mr. Dong has denied the allegations.

With reports from Robert Fife, Nathan VanderKlippe and Bill Curry.

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