The Communist Party has been reaching out long before new revelations about the 2019 and 2021 elections
By Ryan Tumilty
Published Mar 10, 2023
Canadian and Chinese flags seen prior to a meeting of Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and China's President Xi Jinping at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing in 2017.
OTTAWA — Chinese Canadians told MPs Friday that Beijing’s government has directed a widespread influence and harassment campaign targeted at them for decades, long before new revelations about the 2019 and 2021 elections.
Cheuk Kwan, co-chair of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, told MPs holding hearings at the House of Commons Ethics committee, that the Communist Party has been reaching out since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
“We are definitely not surprised by the finding of the recent CSIS report. No doubt the interference in Canadian electoral process is a grave concern but I argue that this is the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Kwan said the Chinese government is engaged in a widespread influence operation that is growing more sophisticated all the time. He said politics is just one area, with the communist regime reaching more broadly and trying to find ways to influence Canada.
“In addition to engaging friendly academics and business people to advocate on its behalf, China also spreads its tentacles to cultivate elected officials and infiltrate political institutions at all levels of the Canadian society,” he told MPs.
Kwan said he has seen instances where protesters were bussed in by Chinese government affiliated groups to attend protests, or to vote in nomination contests. He said he a strong indication of which 11 ridings CSIS has reportedly identified.
“If we want to say who are the 11 potential nominees that CSIS had kind of mentioned, I can pretty much guess who they are.”
Mehmet Tohti, executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, said he has been dealing with subtle threats to his family back in China for years because he has been outspoken about the treatment of Uyghur people.
“The topic of Chinese state interference is not a novelty for us. for decades, Uyghur Canadians have been subjected to all forms of intimidation and harassment by the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.
Cherie Wong, executive director of the group Alliance Canada Hong Kong, said the party engages in long-running influence operations aimed at politicians, attempting to curry favour in the long run.
“These activities are aimed at powerful people in this country, particularly at the lower levels of governance, such as school boards municipalities and regional governance,” she said.
She said the harassment she receives as an outspoken member of the community is constant, but occasionally hard to pin point.
“Since last Friday, when I appeared on CBC, my home internet has been incredibly slow. I’ve been getting more spam calls and more phishing emails and more spam texts but is that an act of foreign interference or influenced, I don’t know.”
She said the government has to do a better job reaching out to diaspora communities and giving them better ways to report concerns.
“The overarching issue is that the community is afraid to appear because they have seen extreme cases of where activists and dissidents are threatened.”
All of the panelists who spoke to MPs Friday said the government would be wise to call a public inquiry into interference, something the Liberals have resisted. They also said they would welcome a foreign agent registry,
Several of the panelists cautioned it’s important all of the discourse around China focused on the Chinese Communist Party government, not the Chinese people and especially not Chinese Canadians.
Ai-Men Lau, an advisor with the Alliance Canada Hong Kong, said transparency would help deal with the issue.
“Sunlight is best and we definitely need to learn from the tactics, we definitely need to see what these tactics are and inoculate ourselves from it,” she said.
She added it’s not just an issue for the Chinese community.
“It is other communities, Syrians, Iranians, Ukrainians, we need to look at these other communities to not only see that this is a challenge that isn’t siloed, but is interconnected, and that we have lessons and things that we can learn from each other.”
The Ethics committee investigation is one of two parliamentary committees looking at the issue of foreign interference. Conservative MPs gave notice Friday that they intend to ask the prime minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford to testify there.
Debate at that motion will happen at a future committee, but Liberals have been blocking the same motion from coming to a vote at another committee meeting.