To clear up ongoing confusion coming from statements by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Chief Electoral Officer Stephane Perrault and some media reporting, the federal government itself says China attempted to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
But it’s the view of Canada’s security agencies that the level of interference did not reach the threshold of calling into question the overall integrity of the elections.
For that reason, the federal body the Trudeau government created to publicly report on foreign interference in elections headed by five senior federal public servants, did not issue a public report following the 2019 and 2021 elections on foreign interference.
That doesn’t mean, as erroneously suggested in some media headlines, that there was no interference.
A February 2021 publicly available CSIS document on “Foreign Interference and Hostile Activities of State Actors” states in the section on “Foreign Interference During 2019 Federal Election” that:
“CSIS actively investigated a number of threats across Canada related to the 2019 federal elections and provided classified briefings on its threat assessment and investigations to the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol Panel (CEIPP).”
CEIPP is the federal agency headed by the five senior public servants established by the Trudeau government prior to the 2019 election to report to the public on foreign interference in elections if they reach the level of calling into question the overall results of the election.
The CSIS report continued:
“As members of the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) Task Force, CSIS and the RCMP also worked closely with partners to coordinate our efforts against foreign interference by raising awareness and assessing threats and preparing the government’s response to them.
“While I (the report’s author) cannot provide more detail, CSIS uses the full mandate of the CSIS Act to investigate allegations of interference in Canada’s democratic institutions or processes by a foreign state.”
Regarding the 2021 federal election, Michelle Tessier, CSIS’ deputy director of operations, testified before a Commons committee earlier this month that:
“In both 2019 and 2021, the panel of senior civil servants responsible for the critical election incident public protocol determined that the Government of Canada did not detect foreign interference that threatened Canada’s ability to have a free and fair election and that warranted public communication … we see activity of foreign interference or attempts at foreign interference in terms of trying to influence, but not enough to have met the threshold of impacting the overall electoral integrity.”
(Following the 2021 election, then Conservative leader Erin O’Toole alleged that election interference by China had cost the Conservatives up to nine seats.)
Similarly, Trudeau’s denial of a Nov. 7 report by Global News that he had been briefed in January by Canadian security officials on China allegedly attempting to interfere in the 2019 federal election by covertly funding at least 11 Liberal and Conservative candidates, wasn’t a denial such interference happened.
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As for chief electoral officer Perrault testifying Tuesday that he wasn’t aware of any reports about China interfering in the 2019 election, that’s not surprising because CEIPP didn’t report any attempts to interfere that in its view, called the integrity of the election into question.
The concern, however, is that it’s a judgment call whether foreign interference in a Canadian federal election rises to the level of calling into question the overall results and the public has no way of knowing how that was determined, since we don’t know what the incidents of foreign interference were.