2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

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Canadians deserve answers and leadership on China

By Logan Jaspers, March 29 2023

Over the past year, news outlets have carried numerous stories about Canada’s increasingly tense relations with the People’s Republic of China. 

Last September, The Globe and Mail disclosed the existence of at least three Chinese police stations in the Greater Toronto Area, monitoring and intimidating members of the Chinese diaspora and silencing dissidents. These police stations are not exclusive to Canada, but that does not make these police stations any less a slap in the face to Chinese-Canadians, who expect their freedoms to be protected by virtue of Canadian sovereignty. 

That November, Global News reported that Justin Trudeau had been briefed by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) on alleged Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, claiming that China indirectly funded the campaigns of at least 11 seemingly pro-China candidates. To this end, at least in 2021, China actively desired another Liberal minority government and interfered in some capacity to bring about this outcome.

This January, a Chinese surveillance balloon flew over Canadian and American airspace. As baffling as the balloon story is — a 21st-century aspiring superpower apparently has to use a balloon to gather intelligence — it proved to be a harbinger of the discovery and retrieval of Chinese military buoys in the Arctic soon afterwards.

And over the past few weeks, the reports of Chinese electoral interference and Trudeau’s knowledge from last November have been expanded upon. In the case of Don Valley North MP Han Dong, CSIS sources claim that the Chinese Consulate in Toronto coerced Chinese international students and Chinese-Canadian seniors to vote en masse in the Liberal nomination meeting for Dong. Trudeau is said to have been informed of this interference by CSIS but did nothing in response.

The regurgitation of over half a year’s worth of headlines should emphasize China’s repeated violations of Canadian sovereignty and subsequent Liberal inaction. Regardless of how much of an electoral difference that interference made — the Conservatives acknowledge they likely would have lost the last election if there was no interference — China has repeatedly and grossly assaulted Canadian sovereignty through electoral interference, violating Canadian territorial integrity, and policing Canadian residents and citizens.

Policy-wise, to confront China, the federal government announced a new Indo-Pacific Strategy with a more assertive and “evolving” position on China, ended research cooperation with the Chinese military and banned TikTok on government phones. 

These policy changes are a start, but despite professing to directly, firmly and unequivocally oppose election meddling, the government’s messaging has been a failure. When the first news on electoral interference was released, Trudeau gave an amorphous statement opposing any foreign interference in Canadian elections but firmly denied ever being briefed by CSIS. 

Despite the sheer amount of detail revealed these weeks, Trudeau has only dug in. He labelled the CSIS leaks as fake, accused the Conservatives of undermining Canadian democracy by criticizing Trudeau’s handling of these reports, and refused weeks-worth of calls to launch an independent investigation into electoral interference. His attempt to ameliorate the situation — by appointing a “special rapporteur” to decide if an inquiry is needed — is half-hearted at best. Trudeau even implied that those concerned with electoral interference are racist

This is all gaslighting. Canadians have the right to know the scale of Chinese violations of Canadian sovereignty, whereas Trudeau, the presumed beneficiary of Chinese interference, is using the topic as a partisan cudgel. The prime minister is cynically acting as if Pierre Poilievre, rather than electoral interference by the increasingly-aggressive second-largest economy in the world, is the greatest threat to Canadian democracy right now. 

Likewise, in these violations of Canadian sovereignty, China’s primary victims are members of the Chinese diaspora, including non-Han Chinese minorities and political dissidents. Conflating worrying about the sanctity of our democratic institutions with racism, like Trudeau did, does a disservice to combating the rising problem of anti-Asian hate. 

What is worst about this electoral interference is Trudeau’s inaction towards it despite having been briefed multiple times on the matter. At best, it is indicative of incompetence, and at worst, an abdication of leadership. Trudeau’s appointment of the special rapporteur, who will deem if a formal inquiry is needed on election interference, is obfuscation — the prime minister simply could call an investigation himself. The brazen lack of transparency, let alone an abandonment of responsible authority, is grounds enough to bring the government down and speaks to the need for Canada to meaningfully change how we approach China.

This article is a part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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