ANALYSIS: Leaked CSIS Doc That Spurred Interference Inquiry Has Now Been Disclosed (In Part)

by EditorL

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa in a file photo. (The Epoch Times)

A series of national security leaks in the press led to the current public inquiry on foreign interference, but the leak of one CSIS report indicating Beijing was targeting MPs—a report ignored by the government—had a major role in forcing Ottawa to hold an inquiry.

That Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) assessment has now been partially disclosed by the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference.

The report dated July 20, 2021, and titled “PRC Foreign Interference in Canada: A Critical National Security Threat,” says that foreign interference activities by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) “continue to be sophisticated, pervasive and persistent” and use a “complex array” of “overt and covert mechanisms.”

The “Top Secret/Canadian Eyes Only” assessment had been leaked to the Globe and Mail, which covered the report on May 1, 2023. The media outlet reported that CSIS said China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) “has taken specific actions to target Canadian MPs.” A national security source told the Globe the targeted MP was Conservative Michael Chong.

This revelation led to the Liberal government scrambling to explain how it was unaware of such information. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau initially said on May 3, 2023, the information had never left CSIS.

“CSIS made the determination that it wasn’t something that needed to be raised to a higher level because it wasn’t a significant enough concern,” he said.

Two days later Mr. Trudeau walked back the comments and said the information had never reached him or the minister of public safety, while both said they had only learned about the news from the media. It was later revealed the CSIS assessment had been sent to the senior leadership of all relevant departments.
The CSIS report had also reached Mr. Trudeau’s National Security and Intelligence Advisor at the time, David Morrison, who defended in committee testimony not briefing the prime minister about it. “It was not a memorandum for action, it was a report for awareness,” he said during the committee hearing in June 2023.

The revelation that Beijing was targeting MPs and that Liberal ministers didn’t do anything about it, or claimed not to know about the issue, led to louder calls from opposition parties to launch a public inquiry. At that time, the government had appointed former Governor General David Johnston as a special rapporteur instead of launching an inquiry.

Mr. Johnston resigned under pressure in June due to conflict-of-interest concerns regarding his ties to the Trudeau Foundation and to the Trudeau family. A public inquiry was called after summer negotiations between the different political parties on the terms of reference and the commissioner.

What the Report Says

The CSIS report was released in July 2021, a few weeks before the prime minister dissolved Parliament and called a snap election. That election has been marred by allegations that Beijing interference played a role in defeating some Tory MPs, including Kenny Chiu in British Columbia.

The purpose of the CSIS intelligence assessment is said to provide a baseline to understand the “intent, motives, and scope” of Chinese regime interference in Canada.

The “Key Assessments” or main takeaways from the assessment include that the PRC is the “foremost perpetrator” of foreign interference (FI) activity in Canada and “pragmatically targets all levels of government … diasporas groups, media entities, dissidents, activists, elites, elected officials and academics.”

CSIS further assessed that the interference targeting Canada is “expected to continue and increase over time.”

The report goes on to explain how the Chinese regime’s approach to diplomatic influence is “fundamentally different” than that of Canada’s. It mentions how Beijing’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) is “critical” to its efforts seeking to exercise “long-term and full-scale influence” to achieve its strategic objectives.

These efforts include “co-opting of foreign entities (especially elites) through the promulgation of united front work.”

The report describes the UFWD as a Chinese Communist Party (CCP ) entity that takes a leading role in carrying out foreign interference aboard.

The Overseas Chinese Affairs Office falls under the UFWD and it has formal partnerships with two Montreal-area community organizations suspected by the RCMP of having hosted Chinese police stations, as The Epoch Times has previously reported.
CSIS says the targets of united front work include “diaspora communities, businesspeople, academics, politicians, political staffers, media, and religious communities.”

Why Canada?

Canada’s spy agency says that Chinese regime interference in Canada seeks to further CCP-state interests “in a manner that protects and enhances the legitimacy and stability of the CCP domestically and aboard.” It adds that while the Chinese diaspora is the main focus of interference efforts, Beijing can target anyone perceived as holding potential value through either “inducements or coercive means.”

The Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference was spurred by the actions of Beijing reported in the press, but its scope has been expanded to look at other perpetrators.

Nevertheless, CSIS says in its assessment that the PRC is the “foremost perpetrator” of foreign interference activity against Canada.

It says the CCP’s focus is to target all levels of government and civil society such as diaspora groups, the public, and the media. CCP agents, such as friendly community groups and trusted contacts are said to “regularly target non-federal stakeholders.” This is to generate “bottom-up” pressure on higher levels of government, says CSIS.

“In some cases, the PRC seeks to target First Nations and indigenous communities to achieve similar goals,” it adds.

Madeleine Redfern, the former mayor of Iqaluit, told The Epoch Times last year she had been offered free trips to China. While she turned them down, she knows of others who didn’t.
“I was aware of the perception of the problem of currying influence and favour; I think they sometimes call it ‘political capture.’ I did not think that was a good idea,” she said.

‘Intimidate and Silence’

The CSIS assessment also has a section on China’s targeting of electoral institutions and processes, but it is mostly redacted. It says the Chinese regime efforts seek to “cultivate relationships, or support political candidates and incumbents, who seem receptive or actively promote PRC viewpoints.”

A section on Beijing’s interference in the media is partially redacted and mentions PRC foreign interference actors have “sought to use Canada-based media outlets to shape Canadian opinions.”

The report also mentions how the CCP targets groups it perceives to be a threat to its power, such as Falun Gong practitioners, pro-Taiwan and Tibet independence forces, Uyghurs, and pro-democracy activists. CSIS says the CCP seeks to “intimidate and silence” members of these communities by coercive means such as threatening family members in China or the denial of visas to return to China.

The CSIS assessment also discusses the CCP’s “anti-corruption” campaigns, which are said to have the dual purpose of targeting opponents of CCP leader Xi Jinping. The report also addresses how the CCP uses social media to target its opponents.

The CSIS outlook on the foreign interference issue says that the agency has investigated threats from the Chinese regime over three decades and has become “arguably more aggressive in asserting its national interests” under Xi Jinping.

“The Party-state has repeatedly demonstrated over the span of several decades that it is extremely willing to engage in clandestine, deceptive and threatening interference activities in Canada whenever necessary,” said the report.

The section about the Chinese regime targeting MPs does not appear in the redacted version of the report.

CSIS Director David Vigneault testified before the commission on Feb. 1 and explained the rationale of redactions that were applied to documents submitted to the inquiry.

He said assessments that provide an overview are easier to release to the public compared to raw intelligence, and he added that more dated documents also carry less risk of causing injury to national security if disclosed.

In recent days Global News reported on more recent CSIS documents obtained via the access to information regime. They appear to be more heavily redacted than the July 2021 assessment.

“We know that the PRC sought to clandestinely and deceptively influence the 2019 and 2021 federal elections,” one February 2023 assessment reportedly says.

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