PM Trudeau defends integrity of Canadian elections ahead of public inquiry

By Brandon Drenon and Nadine Yousif,BBC News

Getty ImagesJustin TrudeauGetty Images

Canada’s intelligence services believe China and India are among countries that have sought to carry out influence operations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his government’s efforts to ensure election integrity during a public inquiry into foreign interference in Canada.

He argued that the last two elections, in 2019 and 2021, were “free and fair” and decided solely by Canadians.

The investigation focused largely on allegations that China was involved in Canadian politics.

India is also said to have carried out its own operations.

A briefing document from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) reveals that the spy agency said China had “covertly and deceptively” interfered in the last two federal elections.

In a 2019 election, international students were allegedly forced to support a Liberal candidate in a nomination race.

Much of Mr. Trudeau’s sworn testimony focused on the allegations surrounding the candidate, former Liberal MP Han Dong.

Mr. Dong, who resigned to sit as an independent in March 2023 after being accused of involvement in Chinese political interference, has denied the accusation.

The inquiry heard this month that Canada’s spy agency accused China of funding a charter bus in 2019 to send Chinese international students to help Mr Dong secure his party’s nomination.

Mr. Trudeau, the Liberal leader, said CSIS had “made him aware” of evidence regarding the incident.

But the prime minister said the information he often received at intelligence briefings was “very sensitive” and “still needs to be confirmed”.

“The irregularities noted are not enough to disrupt a democratic event,” he declared.

“Well-founded suspicions warrant more follow-up, but also might not meet the high threshold for overturning the results.”

Other allegations of foreign interference include opaque cash injections of thousands of dollars from China and illegal financial support from the Indian government to pro-Indian politicians in Canada.

China and India have repeatedly denied allegations that they were among the countries that interfered in Canada’s affairs – with India recently calling them “baseless.”

Allegations of foreign interference in Canadian politics emerged in 2022, following leaked intelligence reports.

Mr Trudeau – whose Liberal Party won elections in 2019 and 2021 – came under pressure to open an investigation after several articles about interference were published in Canadian media in the following months.

There is no evidence that the results of the two general elections were affected – something Mr. Trudeau emphasized Wednesday during about three hours of testimony.

“These elections retained their integrity: they were decided by Canadians,” he said.

Officials told the inquiry that reports of interference often did not meet the “threshold” needed to inform the public.

In a recorded interview presented to the committee, former Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he was informed of the allegations surrounding Mr. Dong’s 2019 nomination race.

He said he was “not concerned” at the time because it had not been strongly substantiated and the intelligence had not suggested that Mr Dong knew of the irregularities or that the election itself in the constituency – constituency or electoral district – had been compromised.

An interim report from the commission is expected early next month.

Chad Sutton

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