RCMP not investigating 2021 election meddling allegations, MPs told
A government official confirms the RCMP is not investigating reports of election interference
While multiple media reports have detailed allegations of foreign interference, including attempts to co-opt candidates, the top bureaucrat at the Department of Public Safety said Wednesday there are no active RCMP investigations underway into the last election.
"I can confirm that the RCMP is not investigating any of allegations that are arising from the last election," Shawn Tupper, deputy minister at the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, told a committee of MPs studying foreign election inference.
Jody Thomas, the prime minister's national security adviser, told MPs on the procedure and House affairs committee that she and other officials have routinely briefed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about election interference by China — she called Beijing the "greatest threat" — and other bad actors like Russia and Iran.
Thomas said there were foreign interference "attempts" in 2019 and 2021.
WATCH: Trudeau's national security adviser attends hearing on election interference
She declined to provide specifics about the interference, saying it would be inappropriate in light of strict national security laws that require secrecy.
"The unlawful sharing of information and inappropriate sharing of information, I believe, jeopardizes our national security. It jeopardizes institutions and puts people at unnecessary risk and it's very concerning," Thomas told MPs.
While there are no pending criminal investigations, Thomas did say that the federal government is "taking concrete steps to strengthen our counter-foreign interference approach, including by making sure that those who engage in such activities face consequences."
The absence of an active criminal probe does not mean there wasn't serious misconduct by China or other foreign actors in the last two federal campaigns.
National security experts have said it's difficult to use intelligence gathered by agencies like CSIS in the course of a criminal matter. The standards in a court of law are different from the standards used in the gathering of intelligence.
Conservative MPs on the House affairs committee raised concerns about the absence of criminal charges for foreign interference. They suggested the lack of such charges leaves the impression that nefarious actors can operate with impunity.
Adam Fisher, director general of intelligence assessments at CSIS, said this is an issue that may require a legislative fix.
Former CSIS director Richard Fadden told CBC News Network's Power & Politics that he is somewhat surprised at the lack of criminal charges.
Fadden said that while CSIS investigations might not provide enough evidence to hit the high bar required for criminal charges, he was surprised the RCMP is not investigating in light of recent media reports alleging foreign interference.
"If everything that was written by your colleagues in the media is taken as accurate, I'm a little bit surprised that there's not something there," Fadden told host David Cochrane.
Tara Denham is a member of the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections Task Force (SITE), a body set up to monitor elections interference.
She told MPs that the task force was aware that anti-Conservative messages were widely distributed on WeChat, a Chinese social media app, during the last election.
But Denham said SITE couldn't determine whether those messages came from foreign sources.
Former Conservative B.C. MP Kenny Chiu, who has been a vocal critic of China, has said he was the target of propaganda and disinformation on WeChat durng the last election campaign.
He lost his Vancouver-area seat to the Liberal candidate and has claimed China played a role in that defeat.
Also Wednesday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and the NDP demanded that the federal government launch a public inquiry into allegations that the regime in Beijing interfered in two recent federal elections.
Prime Minister Trudeau has so far ducked calls to launch an inquiry. He has argued the House of Commons committee currently studying inference is the best forum for this sort of investigation.
Poilievre said the Commons committee's work must continue and the prime minister's chief of staff, Katie Telford, should be called to appear before it.
But he said the "massive" news that Beijing and its agents may have interfered in Canada's democratic process also demands an outside review.
WATCH: Conservatives support a public inquiry into election interference allegations
Poilievre said such an inquiry should be limited to China's alleged actions. The NDP motion on the matter, meanwhile, calls for an inquiry into all foreign interference in Canada's democratic process.
Poilievre said a public inquiry should be chaired by someone who is acceptable to all political parties to ensure its independence.
He said a recent report on the matter authored by Morris Rosenberg was unacceptable because Rosenberg previously held a role with the Trudeau Foundation, a non-profit named for the prime minister's father.
Poilievre said the Liberal government hasn't done enough to curb Beijing's influence in Canada.
"He did one thing — one thing. He appointed a panel and had a report written by someone who is the former head of the Trudeau Foundation," Poilievre said of the prime minister.
"That's it. No foreign influence registry, no laws to protect the Canadian diaspora community. No action against foreign interference and no effort to inform the Canadian people that all of this was happening to our democracy."
Rosenberg's report, released Tuesday, found that the Government of Canada did not detect foreign interference that threatened Canada's ability to hold free and fair elections in 2019 and 2021.
The report did say, however, that there were attempts to interfere in both campaigns.
Speaking to reporters in B.C., Trudeau dodged a question about whether he'd launch a public inquiry.
He said that, in addition to the Commons committee, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, which operates in secret, is reviewing China's alleged interference.
"I think one of the most important things to remember is we have an awful lot of mechanisms that are underway right now around determining what kind of foreign interference has happened, is continuing to happen, and demonstrating the tools we have," Trudeau said.
"Canadians can continue to have confidence not just in our national security officials, but in the integrity of our democracies."
Canada has a long list of grievances against Beijing.
A 'vast campaign of foreign influence'
China has been accused of meddling in Canada's elections. A Chinese national was mysteriously fired from Canada's National Microbiology Lab. A Chinese national working at Hydro-Quebec has been criminally charged for alleged economic espionage. China's ambassador threatened MPs and senators with "forceful measures" as payback for Parliament describing China's treatment of its Uyghur minority as a genocide. And Beijing arbitrarily detained two Canadians for more than 1,000 days.
Last fall, Global News reported that Trudeau had been briefed by national security officials about "a vast campaign of foreign inference" in Canadian politics — a campaign that allegedly included "a clandestine network" of candidates in the 2019 election, a movement to place "agents into the offices of MPs in order to influence policy," an attempt to "co-opt and corrupt former Canadian officials to gain leverage in Ottawa" and a campaign to "punish Canadian politicians whom the People's Republic of China views as threats to its interests."
CSIS reportedly told Trudeau that China's consulate in Toronto floated cash to at least eleven federal election candidates "and numerous Beijing operatives" who worked as campaign staffers.
Last month, the Globe and Mail reported that China again employed a "sophisticated strategy to disrupt Canada's democracy" in the 2021 election campaign because Chinese diplomats and their proxies "backed the re-election of Justin Trudeau's Liberals."
Also in February, Global News reported, citing unnamed sources, that national security officials briefed Trudeau about Liberal MP Han Dong.
The news outlet said CSIS has identified Dong as "a witting affiliate in China's election interference networks." Global also reported Dong was one of the eleven candidates allegedly supported by Beijing in the 2019 election.