(Al Jazeera) Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called for a review of foreign interference in his country’s elections and will appoint an independent special investigator to probe alleged Chinese meddling in Canada’s polls.
Trudeau has come under pressure to act amid Canadian media reports, citing anonymous intelligence sources, that detail alleged schemes run by China to influence Canada’s elections in 2021 and 2019.
The Globe and Mail newspaper reported last month that China preferred to see Trudeau’s Liberals reelected in the 2021 election and had worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered unfriendly to Beijing. Opposition parties have demanded a full public inquiry.
“Today, we’re taking even further action to protect our democratic institutions, to defend their integrity, and to uphold and strengthen confidence in our democracy. We will always take foreign attempts at undermining our democracy very seriously,” Trudeau said in a statement on Monday.
The prime minister said that he had asked legislators in the parliament’s national security committee to launch an investigation to “assess the state of foreign interference” in the country’s federal electoral process.
Trudeau also said that he would appoint an “eminent Canadian” who will have powers to make recommendations on “protecting and enhancing” democracy in Canada, including holding a public inquiry or another formal independent review process.
Canada’s National Security and Intelligence Review Agency will also investigate how the country’s intelligence services handled the threat of foreign interference during the elections and report its findings to Parliament.
“Together, these measures will give us a better understanding of what happened in the last two elections, how foreign governments tried to interfere, how security agencies in Canada responded to the threat of interference and how the information flowed across government,” the prime minister said in a news briefing.
Trudeau and Canada’s top security officials have acknowledged China’s interference attempts but insist that election outcomes were not altered. They have not confirmed the details of the media reports.
Trudeau also raised “serious concerns” over the alleged Chinese election interference with China’s President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G20) meeting in Indonesia in November.
“We have long known, as an independent report confirmed again last week, that the Chinese government, and other regimes like Iran and Russia, have attempted to interfere not just in our democracy, but in our country in general, whether it’s our institutions, our businesses, our research facilities, or in the daily lives of our citizens,” Trudeau said.
He added that “all political leaders agree that the election outcomes in 2019, and in 2021, were not impacted by foreign interference. But even if it didn’t change the results of our elections, any interference attempt, by any foreign actor, is troubling and serious”.
China denies all allegations of election interference, saying it has no interest in meddling with Canada’s internal affairs.
Canada’s opposition Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre had earlier on Monday criticised the idea of a Parliament committee being involved in the investigation. He said that would result only in officials presenting opposition legislators with “some information and then swear them to secrecy so they could never speak about it again. So effectively, that would be a trick to try and prevent anyone debating the subject.”
Despite sparring with Chinese President Xi Jinping over many issues, Trudeau’s Liberal government is seen as open to doing business with China, while the Conservatives are known to take a more hardline stance against Beijing.
The accusations about covert Chinese schemes to meddle in Canadian affairs have added another layer of complexity to strained diplomatic relations between Canada and China.
Tensions between the countries mounted in late 2018 when Canadian police detained Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, and then Beijing arrested two Canadians on spying charges. All three were freed in 2021.
Earlier on Monday, Canadian police said they were investigating the media reports that cited secret intelligence for potential violations of information security laws. Canada’s spy agency is also conducting a probe into how classified information was leaked to news organisations.