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Terry Glavin: A user’s guide to Trudeau’s illicit affair with China’s Communists

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Terry Glavin: A user’s guide to Trudeau’s illicit affair with China’s Communists

There is no vindication awaiting the prime minister

Author of the article:

Terry Glavin

Published Jun 19, 2024  •  Last updated 5 days ago  •  5 minute read


Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends the plenary session of the Summit on peace in Ukraine, at the luxury Burgenstock resort, near Lucerne, on June 15, 2024. (Photo by URS FLUEELER / POOL / AFP)

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In the ordinary course of heated political controversies, Canadians can sort out the issue that’s launching their politicians at one another’s throats. In the “foreign interference” upheaval that has in turns paralyzed, confounded and outraged Canada’s political class in recent days, we’re not even allowed to know what the federal party leaders are arguing about, exactly.

This doesn’t make the story easy to tell. It was already hard enough to determine when the story really begins, let alone figure how it will all end.

If we wanted to, we could push the beginning of the story back to 2003, when Beijing’s United Front Work Department boasted about electing six of its preferred candidates in Toronto. Three years later, the UFWD — China’s overseas strong-arming, “elite capture” and election-interference infrastructure — claimed electoral success for 10 of its 44 preferred Toronto-area candidates, according to an internal training manual uncovered by the Financial Times.

We could also begin the story with the way then Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Richard Fadden was thrown under the bus by Liberal and New Democratic Party MPs back in 2010, when he said several provincial and municipal politicians in Canada had come under Beijing’s influence, to a worrying degree. The charge against Fadden back then was led by the Liberals’ current health minister, Mark Holland.

But for the opening of this latest chapter, foreshadowed by a series of leaks from intelligence-agency whistleblowers going back to November 2022, we need only go back as far as June 3. That’s when an extraparliamentary oversight committee released a heavily-redacted, 84-page report that seemed to suggest that some MPs have been dallying in conduct bordering on treason.

In this way, the “foreign interference” story has revealed itself to be about something worse. Despite the huge blanked-out spaces the Prime Minister’s Office has insisted on imposing on the public record, all along this has really been a story about collusion, about certain of our politicians collaborating with hostile foreign powers to their own advantage and to further their own parties’ electoral prospects. Some MPs have been “semi-witting or witting” participants in the efforts of foreign states to interfere in Canada’s political life, the report found, particularly during the federal elections of 2019 and 2021.

This is hardly news to anyone who has been paying close attention, but the story has changed in the way its emphasis has shifted. It can no longer be told as a simple story about Canadian politicians as victims. In the story told by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, Canadian politicians are the culprits.

In one key respect, however, it’s been the same story, for more than 20 years. While the NSICOP report alludes to bad behaviour on the part of India’s friends in Canada, and Pakistan, and Iran and Russia are mentioned almost in passing, it’s China’s deep involvement in Canada’s democratic processes and institutions that the NSICOP report emphasizes.

By the time of the 2019 federal election, the UFWD’s budget for overseas operations was $600 million, and CSIS assessed that year that Canada had become an “attractive and permissive target” for foreign meddling. Even so, NSICOP reported that same year, public engagement was “almost non-existent.” That, too, has changed.

The public is most definitely engaged now, despite the Trudeau government’s efforts over the past year and a half to shut everything down. By filibuster, by blocking evidence demanded by House of Commons committees, and by enlisting the China-friendly, Trudeau-friendly “special rapporteur” David Johnston in a failed whitewash, the Trudeau government expended every effort to make it all go away.

The Liberals evaded the demands for a public inquiry until their minority position in the House made it impossible to stop. Trudeau and his ministers insinuated that it was all just a big fuss manufactured by anti-Chinese racists, by incompetent CSIS officials, by sour-grapes losers among failed Conservative candidates, and by dubiously-motivated CSIS whistleblowers who deserved to be hunted down and prosecuted. None of it worked.

The release of the NSICOP report followed on the equally astonishing proceedings of the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in April. In hearings before Commissioner Justice Marie-Josée Hogue, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his officials gave every appearance of committing something close to perjury in their efforts to dispute, dismiss and deny the veracity of incriminating evidence presented by CSIS director David Vigneault. But it was the NSICOP report that left everyone with the worst kind of unanswered questions: Who are these “traitors” on Parliament Hill?

Officially, it’s necessarily a mystery. That’s because huge swaths of the NSICOP report were redacted and expunged by the Prime Minister’s Office on the grounds that the content would be “injurious to national security, national defence or international relations,” or would violate “solicitor-client privilege.” Making things even foggier, NSICOP has been engaged in a running battle with senior officials in the PMO and several federal agencies over their habit of relying on “cabinet confidences” to withhold information. Last year, this rationale was used to blot out, in whole or in part, more than 1,000 documents NSICOP asked the government to disclose.

Even worse, Prime Minister Trudeau, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and the Greens’ Elizabeth May, each having seen the unredacted version of the report, disagree quite dramatically about what it contains. Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre says he doesn’t want to be drawn into the cone of silence the NSICOP statute would require of him, so he doesn’t know which MPs are named in it.

Despite the furious arguments separating them on all that, there’s a weird circling of wagons going on. Everyone agrees that NSICOP has cast a “dark cloud” of suspicion over the House of Commons. All the party leaders broadly agreed last week that the unredacted version of the NSICOP report should be booted over to Justice Hogue to sort it all out. And separately, a series of national-security measures NSICOP had urged in vain on the Trudeau government for seven years is suddenly roaring through Parliament with all-party support.

Bill C-70 is already at the third-reading stage in the Senate after being introduced in the House of Commons only on May 6. Among other things, the bill contains a version of the foreign influence registry that the Liberals dragged their feet on for three years. First introduced in an April 13, 2021 private members bill tabled by Steveston — Richmond East Conservative MP Kenny Chiu, the registry was ferociously opposed by Beijing’s UFWD proxies in Canada. Chiu was defeated following a well-documented UFWD campaign to punish him at the polls.

Where things get particularly awkward for Trudeau’s Liberals is that leaked CSIS assessments consistently show that the UFWD had identified a very specific objective in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections: keeping the Conservatives out of office and ensuring a Liberal win, preferably in a more easily-manipulable minority government.

There is no way of knowing for certain whether any foreign-meddling effort in any riding in either of those federal elections influenced the vote outcome, one way or another. But however this story ends, it’s hard to see its final chapter containing the Trudeau government’s vindication. It’s much easier to imagine the story coming to a close in Justin Trudeau’s final disgrace.