Canada Must Beware of Chinese Election Interference – Trudeau
By Ismail Shakil
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Foreign interference in elections is a very serious issue and Canada must guard against it, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday after a media report saying China was trying to influence the outcome of the 2021 election.
Already strained Sino-Canadian relations have grown even more strained since the launch of a suspected Chinese spy balloon over North American airspace earlier this month and a recent Canadian media report on Beijing’s attempts to influence the last vote.
Last week, the Globe and Mail newspaper cited classified and top-secret documents from Canada’s spy agency that showed Chinese diplomats and their deputies were working to defeat conservative politicians perceived to be more hostile to Beijing.
The Globe also said the documents show China supported Trudeau’s re-election, albeit with a parliamentary minority, which was in fact the result.
“This is an extraordinarily serious problem … we are seeing systematic meddling attempts by countries like China and Russia and others who want to destabilize democracies,” Trudeau told reporters in Richmond Hill, Ontario.
“Everyone should be concerned that countries like China and Russia and others are constantly trying to spread misinformation and disinformation, and so far have been unsuccessfully trying to interfere in our elections,” he said, but cautioned against falling into “partisan traps.”
The leader of Canada’s main opposition party, Conservative Pierre Poilievre, last week accused Trudeau of ignoring and profiting from Chinese interference.
“Increasing distrust of the outcome of an election and giving reasons for it…is not a good path for society or democracy,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau expressed “serious concerns” directly to Chinese President Xi Jinping late last year over alleged Beijing interference in the 2019 election, which was reported by a domestic broadcaster.
Relations between China and Canada have been strained since the 2018 detention of Chinese Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou and the subsequent arrest by Beijing of two Canadians on espionage charges. All three were later released, but relations remain sour.
Earlier Wednesday, Ottawa confirmed it was aware of other Chinese air and sea surveillance attempts foiled by the Canadian military after the Globe reported that Chinese floating devices had been found in the Arctic in the fall.
The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Over the weekend, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi said the US handling of the balloon incident was “unimaginable” and “hysterical,” an “absurd” act that went against international norms.
(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa, additional reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Chris Reese, William Maclean)