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Thursday, March 23, 2023

RCMP probes leaks claiming foreign interference in elections

OTTAWA — The RCMP says it is investigating leaks of classified information related to allegations of foreign election interference as the Liberals’ political rivals in Parliament continue to press for an independent public inquiry.

The Mounties’ acknowledgment on Monday that the force is probing the source of media leaks comes days after Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) director David Vigneault told a parliamentary committee “there is an investigation underway by CSIS and our partners” into the sources of leaked information.

At the same committee, a top RCMP commander told MPs the force is not investigating any elections law violations after media revelations of alleged activity by Chinese government officials and their proxies to influence the 2021 election.

Those included headline-grabbing allegations published by Global News that Chinese-Canadian seniors and international students were “bused” into ridings to sway an individual Liberal candidate’s nomination — allegations the candidate Han Dong and his riding association denied — and a Globe and Mail story that cited CSIS reports that falsehoods were spread on social media to affect Chinese-language voters, and political donations were illegally refunded, in order to secure a Liberal minority government and suppress Conservative votes.

On Monday, the leaders of the New Democratic and Conservative parties insisted a full public inquiry should be held into the substance of the allegations.

They suggested that a parliamentary committee empowered to hear top secret evidence about allegations of foreign interference — which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau points to — isn’t good enough.

“That’s a trick and that’s a trap,” Poilievre told reporters Monday.

“What they would do is bring opposition MPs or leaders into a room, give them some information and then swear them to secrecy so they could never speak about it again. So effectively, that would be a trick to try and prevent anyone debating the subject.”

He said a public inquiry that is “truly independent” is needed “all while continuing the parliamentary investigation.”

A panel of senior civil servants, and an independent review of their work written by former civil servant Morris Rosenberg, concluded that while there were foreign attempts at election interference, none affected the conduct or outcome of a “free and fair” election.

For days, the government has resisted calling an inquiry while not explicitly ruling it out. Trudeau has underscored the ability of parliamentary committees, including the joint National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), to review the allegations, including secret evidence that CSIS says cannot be publicly examined at risk of revealing informants or tradecraft.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Monday the Liberals and Conservatives are playing politics with the issue. However, while he insists a public inquiry is necessary, he will not say whether his demand for one is a deal-breaker for his party’s support of the minority Liberal government in the House of Commons.

“If there is a non-confidence vote, we’ll make a determination if that happens,” he said. “That’s not in front of us right now.”

Singh suggested there are ways for an inquiry to conduct transparent public hearings as well as hear evidence in private.

But Poilievre said it should not be up to the Trudeau government to decide what evidence would be heard in secret, and that only an independent inquiry commissioner should be empowered to make that decision.

The Liberals continue to point to parliamentary committees as well as to an oversight agency of CSIS and CSE, known as the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, as mechanisms to review the allegations.

But neither agency is publicly confirming whether it has been tasked with, or independently undertaken, such a review.

The NSICOP secretariat said in a statement to the Star that it has received the Rosenberg report on the scheme set up to monitor election fairness, known as the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol.

But the committee will not confirm whether it is doing its own review of how Canada’s national security agencies — CSIS and the foreign electronic signals intelligence agency known as the Communications Security Establishment — detected or adequately responded to perceived influence attempts. Liberal MP David McGuinty, who chairs the national security committee, was unavailable for an interview.

On Monday, the RCMP confirmed in a statement it has launched a probe “into violations of the Security of Information Act (SOIA) associated with recent media reports.”

It said the investigation is not focused on any one security agency. “As the RCMP is investigating these incidents, there will be no further comment on this matter at this time,” said Cpl. Kim Chamberland.


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