CSIS Report on Han Dong Nomination Race Pulled After Meeting With Trudeau Adviser

by EditorK

Liberal MP Han Dong in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Feb. 03, 2023. (Screenshot from ParlVu)

Noé Chartier
By Noé Chartier 

Canada’s spy chief decided to retract a report about the 2019 Liberal nomination race involving MP Han Dong after meeting with the prime minister’s top security adviser.

Canadian Security Intelligence Service Director David Vigneault was asked to clarify the matter when he testified before the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference on April 4.

Mr. Vigneault said he couldn’t recall exactly why he had retracted the report, but said it wasn’t because the issue was too sensitive. “In my career, I have never been asked to censor intelligence, to change intelligence for reasons that would be exterior to CSIS operations,” he said.

A summary of Mr. Vigneault’s in-camera examination by the commission some weeks ago mentions that he had retracted an intelligence assessment produced by his agency related to “possible PRC interference” in the Liberal nomination race in the Don Valley North riding in 2019.

MP Han Dong had won the contest amid allegations of irregularities and Beijing foreign interference.

The CSIS assessment was disseminated in October 2019 to senior government officials, including the prime minister’s National Security and Intelligence Advisor (NSIA). Greta Bossenmaier was in the role at the time.

“An internal CSIS email sent shortly after the assessment was published says that the Director asked for the assessment to be recalled further to a discussion with the NSIA,” indicates Mr. Vigneault’s interview summary. Mr. Vigneault’s interaction with the NSIA was not discussed at the inquiry.

‘Politically-Connected Canadian’

The assessment, labelled as CSIS National Security Brief 22/19, has not been released to the public. A heavily redacted re-issued version, 23/19, was presented during the hearings and is titled “Foreign Interference in the 2019 Federal Campaign of Dong Han.”

The content of the initial version, 22/19, is discussed in Mr. Vigneault’s interview summary and says the report identified potential foreign interference by a “politically-connected Canadian.”

“That person had not previously been identified as acting on behalf of a foreign state, but appeared to have been doing so in the period leading up to the 2019 election,” says the summary.

The summary adds the report had “initially assessed it likely that the actor ‘has already had an impact on the 2019 federal election, and will remain a foreign interference threat after the election.’”

This information, disseminated shortly after the 2019 elections and presented in much greater detail, sent shockwaves through the establishment. The federal government has maintained that even if there has been foreign interference, it has not impacted the integrity of the elections.

The chair of the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) Task Force, composed of members of the security apparatus, reacted to the report in a charged email sent to the CSIS representative on the task force a few days after its distribution.

SITE Chair Lyall King told the unidentified CSIS rep on Oct. 31, 2019, that he was “quite surprised” when he received the CSIS assessment on Han Dong.

“The intelligence contained is extremely interesting and there is a lot of detail,” he said, before adding he was at the same time “really disappointed.”

“This document is massively problematic from my perspective.”

Mr. King complained that SITE had not been made privy to the reporting, even though it is supposed to monitor intelligence pertaining to election interference. “I have to question why this was not shared in advance with SITE – particularly given the severity of the alleged activity.”


A main concern expressed by Mr. King was that the reporting would put into question the integrity of the SITE Task Force, given the information had been sent to top officials without his prior knowledge.

“This will raise so many questions – and one week after the election – when this information was clearly known beforehand and built up over time,” he said. “This puts us in a very difficult spot, and brings into question the integrity of SITE TF.”

Mr. King, a Communications Security Establishment (CSE) executive, testified before the public inquiry on April 5 and noted CSIS had taken a different position than SITE on the foreign interference.

“Given the nature of it, just after the election, and the bottom line statement seemed to have some disagreements with what we were saying, from a SITE perspective regarding the nature of the foreign interference, I was concerned about the messaging being conflicting, and going up to seniors,” he said.

On the one hand, the CSIS assessment said that an actor “has already had an impact on the 2019 federal election,” whereas SITE reported elections were not impacted.

In its post-election report, the task force assessed that foreign activities largely conducted by China had occurred in some ridings, but said that “none of these foreign interference activities were part of a broad based electoral interference interference campaign, and did not have an impact on the overall outcome of the election.”

A CSIS response to Mr. King’s email was not disclosed, but an email of his from Nov. 3, 2019, mentions feedback from CSIS obtained presumably through a CSE employee.

“Feedback from Dan and his discussion with Vigneault: David understands we are not happy; he apparently didn’t really like the report either (which I can’t quite fathom),” wrote Mr. King. “Dan” could be a reference to former CSE associate chief Dan Rogers whereas “Vigneault” refers to the CSIS director.

‘Nonchalantly Dismissed’

Mr. King also complained the issue had been “only nonchalantly dismissed by Cherie,” in a likely reference to former CSIS executive Cherie Henderson, who was in charge of the overall production and dissemination of intelligence with the agency.

Ms. Henderson testified at the inquiry on April 4 and explained that CSIS had been collecting information on foreign interference threats for a long time, outside the electoral campaign or writ period.

“So what happened in this particular instance is that based on a previous investigation, our analysts in the service had begun drafting a report,” she said. Ms. Henderson said this is why information had not been shared with SITE and led to Mr. King being taken by surprise.

Ms. Henderson, who recently retired from CSIS, also said the assessment about the actor having an impact on the 2019 election was perhaps too strong after the complaints were raised and a review conducted.

“We felt internally that that was a bit of a leap too far, the threat actor would have had an impact on that particular timeframe, that particular issue, but that would not have impacted the integrity of the 2019 election, it was just a little bit of a too strong of an assessment,” she said.

The redacted and revised version of the CSIS assessment released to the inquiry states that “[redacted] it was alleged that the PRC interfered in the Don Valley North Liberal nomination of 2019 09 12, remain unsubstantiated. [Redacted] the allegations are consistent with our current understanding of PRC foreign interference activity in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), [redacted].”

Under the heading “Anticipated Interference?” are fully redacted pages and a summary stating: “The redacted text references campaign efforts of Han Dong to register new Liberal Party members, including international students, to vote in the nomination race.”

Mr. Dong admitted belatedly to the inquiry on April 2 that he was aware international Chinese students were bussed in to vote for him in the contest, but denied he’d support the use of fraudulent documents to vote.

A CSIS intelligence summary presented at the inquiry says there were “irregularities in the nomination that may have included activities undertaken by individuals close to PRC [People’s Republic of China] Officials.”

There is also reporting indicating the students were provided with false documents to be allowed to vote despite not being residents of the riding, says the summary. “The documents were provided by individuals associated with a known proxy agent,” said CSIS.

Questions have been raised during the inquiry about the Liberal Party nomination rules, which allow voters over 14 who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents to vote.

The public inquiry is currently conducting hearings focused on interference during the 2019 and 2021 elections and is set to hear next week from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his political staff.

Mr. Trudeau had been briefed in 2019 about the issues in the Don Valley North nomination contest but chose to keep Han Dong in place.

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

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