B.C. premier wants CSIS briefing on Chinese government's alleged meddling in Vancouver election
David Eby says he's 'very troubled' by claims in Globe and Mail report and wants more details
- B.C. Premier David Eby says he is "very troubled" by allegations of China's alleged interference in a Vancouver election.
- The Chinese consulate in Vancouver calls the allegations "utterly groundless."
- Vancouver's current and former mayors say the alleged foreign interference didn't impact final election results.
- The CSIS calls the alleged foreign interference activities by the Chinese government the "greatest strategic threat to national security" in Canada.
- Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre says the CSIS leaks are proof Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has lost the confidence of the Canadian intelligence community.
- Analysts warn cities present a "weak link" in Canadian democracies.
British Columbia Premier David Eby says he's "very troubled'' by allegations of interference by China's government in Vancouver's municipal elections last year, and he's asked Canada's intelligence agency for a briefing.
Eby says Canadians deserve a "thorough and independent investigation'' into the claims reported in the Globe and Mail this week that China's consulate in Vancouver meddled in the municipal polls by using diaspora community groups and grooming certain candidates.
The premier says he's asked for a "full briefing'' from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service but hasn't received it yet.
The newspaper report cites CSIS documents, but Eby says he's not in a position to comment on their credibility.
The report prompted Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim to say on Thursday that he was disgusted by its "insinuations,'' and he wouldn't be part of the conversation if he were white.
Eby said the majority of tools to fight international interference are in federal hands, but he needs to know if there's any way for B.C. to "close any gaps."
He said, for example, Elections B.C. has already brought forward recommendations to combat misinformation.
"We're always looking for ways to make sure our elections are free and fair,'' Eby said at a news conference in Prince Rupert, in the province's northwest coast.
The Globe and Mail story says CSIS documents do not name the consulate's alleged favoured mayoral and council contenders, but wanted the incumbent Kennedy Stewart to lose.
Sim, Vancouver's first Canadian mayor of Chinese descent, defeated Stewart by more than 36,000 votes.
On Thursday, he pushed back against questions about the legitimacy of his victory.
"I'll just say it: if I was a Caucasian male, we're not having this conversation," Sim said.
"If there's proof of foreign interference in our election, I want to know about it because I'm a Canadian … but right now, there are a bunch of insinuations."
Chinese consulate upset with Canadian media, politicians
The Chinese consulate in Vancouver issued a statement late Thursday expressing "strong dissatisfaction'' at Canadian media and politicians for "smearing and discrediting'' the diplomatic mission and its staff.
It called the interference claims "utterly groundless,'' and said that instead, Canada and the U.S. had interfered in China's internal affairs.
"Even some Canadian municipal-level officials undermine China's territory and sovereign integrity through Taiwan and Hong Kong questions,'' said the statement on the consulate's website.
Prime Minister defends Vancouver results
Speaking in Ontario Friday morning, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau said while it's important to take allegations of foreign interference seriously, it doesn't mean Canadians should automatically doubt the legitimacy of elected leaders and institutions.
"I think we have to be very very careful when little bits and pieces of uncorroborated, unverified information, get put out," he said.
"The impact on individuals who choose to step forward and serve their communities, like Ken Sim, being attacked by allegations that are incomplete and leaked that he can't even really respond to is sort of an underscoring of the delicacy of these issues and how they need to be treated with real seriousness."
Trudeau is himself embroiled in questions regarding what he and his staff knew about alleged foreign interference in federal elections.
Citing classified CSIS sources, multiple media reports have alleged that China tried to ensure the Liberals won the 2021 election. Those reports also alleged Beijing worked to defeat Conservative candidates who were critical of China by interfering in the last two federal elections.
Speaking in Vancouver, federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said the CSIS leaks are proof Trudeau has lost the confidence of the Canadian intelligence community.
The Conservatives have sponsored a motion calling on Trudeau's chief of staff Katie Telford to testify at a House of Commons committee investigating the alleged interference.
"The prime minister's chief of staff was intimately involved in his leadership campaign and in all of his federal election campaigns," said Poilievre. "It's time for her to come forward and honestly testify about what happened, what was Beijing's role in supporting Justin Trudeau and how do we prevent this kind of interference from ever happening again in Canada."
On Friday, CSIS called the alleged foreign interference activities by China's government the "greatest strategic threat to national security" in a statement provided in French to CBC/Radio-Canada.
'I lost by a ton': former Vancouver mayor
Meanwhile, Stewart says he wants the allegations of foreign interference in Vancouver's municipal election to be taken seriously, although he doesn't believe it's why he lost.
"I lost by a ton," he told CBC's As It Happens. "I lost by 30,000 votes so ... if this was happening, it's not what caused me to lose."
But, he said, he is still "deeply concerned" about reports of attempted interference in Canada, particularly at a local level.
"It does look that the Chinese government may see municipalities as a weak link in Canada's democratic chain, when it comes to oversight, which I would completely agree with," he said.
Stewart called for more work to be done on increasing oversight of candidates, election spending and voting at the municipal level.
"I don't know why we don't care more about this."
Cities an attractive target: analysts
Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa's Institute for Science, Society and Policy, said there are a number of reasons a foreign government might want to influence municipal politics.
McCuaig-Johnston, an outspoken critic of Beijing, said while municipal governments do not dictate foreign policy, they are central to creating official sister-city relationships.
Those sister-city agreements often involve programs that facilitate cultural and commercial ties between cities, which would then lead to possible "preferential trade and business connections.''
There is also the possibility of gaining favour with a municipal politician who then progresses to other levels of government, McCuaig-Johnston said.
"Municipal politicians sometimes move on to the provincial or federal level,'' she said. "So it is worth investing effort to establish close, dependent relationships with them early.''
Hugh Stephens, an Asia Pacific Foundation distinguished fellow, said Chinese officials might have taken an interest in Vancouver's election because Stewart considered a "friendship-city'' relationship with the Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung in 2021.
Chinese diplomats are "sensitive to any level of government that may engage with Taiwan,'' Stephens said. Beijing views the self-ruled island as a renegade province.
Stephens said allegations of foreign interference can create discourse that's "extremely unfair'' to both successful and
unsuccessful candidates, although the winners bear the brunt of suspicion.
"It undermines their credibility, even though they had nothing to do with the consulate's activities, and the meddling by the consulate made no difference to the outcome."
With files from CBC News
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