ANALYSIS: CSIS to Trudeau: Canada ‘Slower’ Than Allies in Tackling Foreign Interference

by EditorK

A vehicle passes a sign outside the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) headquarters in Ottawa November 5, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Noé Chartier

By Noé Chartier

If Canadians already suspected that Beijing was interfering in elections by virtue of multiple intelligence leaks in the media, most probably didn’t know what Canada’s spy agency really thinks about how Ottawa is handling the threat before the public inquiry got underway.

To make a long story short, it’s not good.

Reams of evidence have been presented at the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in recent days, with deep dives into key allegations such as Chinese interference in a Liberal nomination race or the Chinese regime funding federal candidates.

But what is particularly important for the inquiry to determine is what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau knew about Beijing’s interference and how he reacted to it.

A few pieces of evidence have particularly stood out, not for their explosive revelations on election meddling but for shining a light on the mood at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

CSIS is Canada’s human intelligence agency, which has the lead role in countering foreign interference.

Two of its written briefings for the prime minister on the topic, dated October 2022 and February 2023, use strong language in criticizing the government’s response to the threat.

The “Top Secret” briefing dated Oct. 26, 2022, notes that Canada is not alone in facing foreign interference (FI) threats, particularly those coming from the Chinese regime, but says Canada is lagging behind in tackling those threats.

“Canada has been slower than our Five Eyes allies [original emphasis] to respond to the Fl threat with legislative and other initiatives, such as proactively publicizing successful disruption of Fl activities as a means of deterring future efforts,” says the briefing.

‘Much Work to Be Done’

The briefing document goes on to mention examples of how the United States, Australia, and the UK have all taken various steps to counter interference, such as implementing foreign agent registries. The Liberal government has yet to introduce such legislation despite starting consultations last year.

The CSIS briefing also notes a 2019 finding from the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP): “Despite years of consistent CSIS reporting and advice, the Government of Canada’s approach left much work to be done.”

NSICOP was established by the Liberal government and is touted by Ottawa as an important measure to handle intelligence on threats. It answers to the prime minister instead of to Parliament.

The briefing adds there has been some progress on the recommendations made by NSICOP, but says “there is much to do on developing effective responses to FI.”

CSIS also says that state actors can conduct successful foreign interference activities in Canada because there are “no consequences, either legal or political… it is therefore a low-risk high-reward endeavour.”

The briefing adds that CSIS is expanding considerable effort to counter the threat, meanwhile “the significant harm caused by these threats persist.”

“The Government’s ability to respond to this threat is currently hampered by the lack of legislation, including criminal law and an intelligence-to-evidence framework, and a true whole-of-government approach,” CSIS said.

Another CSIS briefing to the prime minister in February 2023 repeats some of the same conclusions, saying the government needs to view the threat under a different lens and take more meaningful action.

“Better protecting Canadian democratic institutions against Fl will require a shift in the Government’s perspective and a willingness to take decisive action and impose consequences on perpetrators,” said the briefing.

It repeats that implementing a foreign agent registry would be a “helpful” tool, while noting it should be complemented with other measures, which are redacted in the document from public view.

Trudeau Advisers Testify

Upon being presented with the various CSIS briefings at the public inquiry on April 9, senior advisers to the prime minister pushed back and said such information had not been relayed to Mr. Trudeau.

“These are talking points that haven’t gone through any kind of vetting process, they haven’t gone through any kind of sign-off or approval process,” said Jeremy Broadhurst, an adviser to the prime minister.

“This stuff has never been sent to us, so whoever these were being prepared for they chose not to read them or follow them and we have never heard language like the stuff that is in this document.”

Mr. Trudeau’s Deputy Chief of Staff Brian Clow, who was present during the in-person CSIS briefings, made similar comments about the February 2023 instance.

“Most of what was in that document was not relayed to us in that meeting, particularly the very stark conclusions at the bottom of the document,” Mr. Clow said during his testimony.

The testimony from the advisers sparked some controversy among other stakeholders at the inquiry.

Parties with standing at the inquiry had already protested earlier this week that the CSIS briefings to the prime minister had been submitted late, after current and former CSIS officials had testified.

In light of the discrepancy between the written evidence provided by the CSIS briefings and the contradictions highlighted by the prime minister’s advisers, Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue ruled that CSIS Director David Vigneault would be recalled to testify again on April 12—two days after the public hearings are scheduled to conclude.

Counsels representing various interests, such as MPs Michael Chong and Jenny Kwan, seek to know the nature of the CSIS documents identified as briefings to the prime minister. They also want to know why Mr. Vigneault allegedly did not communicate the content of those briefings to Mr. Trudeau, as per his advisers.

Another CSIS document with the same date as the written briefing to the prime minister, Oct. 26, 2022, went over some of the key intelligence gathered on Chinese interference.

In its top statement, it says the Chinese regime “[redacted] clandestinely supported candidate [redacted].”

It adds that “[redacted] channeling donations and other assistance to preferred candidates will foster a bond of obligation to the PRC that will pay dividends for the promotion of CCP interest if elected.”

This information was supposedly delivered through a verbal briefing on Oct. 27, 2022. Yet again, a prime minister adviser said it wasn’t.

“Generally speaking, this does not resemble what the prime minister was told on the 27th. Yes, China was very much a part of that briefing, but not the specific information you’re seeing here,” said Mr. Clow.

A few days after Oct. 27, 2022, Global News published the first of many stories based on national security leaks, saying intelligence officials had warned Mr. Trudeau about a “vast campaign of foreign interference” by Beijing.

Reporting by Global News and The Globe and Mail, alleging widespread meddling by the Chinese regime, put pressure on the Liberal government to hold the public inquiry.

The inquiry is working on tight deadlines and will have to submit an interim report by May 3.

Noé Chartier is a senior reporter with the Canadian edition of The Epoch Times. Twitter: @NChartierET 


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