Canada will 'never tolerate' foreign interference, minister tells China

G20 foreign ministers' meeting in New Delhi

By Ismail Shakil

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly told her Chinese counterpart that foreign interference will not be tolerated in Canada's internal affairs, amid calls for a broad public inquiry into China's alleged meddling in the past two elections.

"Canada will never tolerate any form of foreign interference in our democracy and internal affairs by China," Joly told China's foreign minister, Qin Gang, in their first-ever meeting, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi, according to a statement on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canada's top security officials acknowledge interference attempts by China, but they insist that election outcomes were not altered.

Canadian media have recently published detailed reports, citing anonymous intelligence sources, alleging schemes run by Beijing to interfere in Canada's last two elections. Trudeau and security officials have not confirmed the reports.

Earlier on Friday, Qin refuted allegations that Chinese embassies and consulates in Canada were trying to interfere in Canadian elections, saying the alleged interference was "completely false and nonsensical."

Ottawa's open accusations about covert Chinese schemes to meddle in Canadian affairs add another layer of complexity to strained diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Tensions between the countries soared in late 2018 when Canadian police detained an executive of the Chinese company Huawei Technologies Co, which was followed by Beijing's arrest of two Canadians on spying charges. All three were freed in 2021.

A Canadian parliamentary committee investigating election interference passed a non-binding a motion on Thursday calling on the federal government to set up a public inquiry, increasing pressure on Trudeau to back a broad probe. Two parliamentary committees are already conducting their own investigations.

Trudeau on Friday said Canada already had protocols to prevent foreign meddling, including an independent panel that has verified the integrity of the 2019 and 2021 elections.

"We will be there to do whatever is necessary" to ensure the integrity of elections and to build confidence in the country's democracy, Trudeau told reporters in Winnipeg.

Canada's main opposition party slammed Trudeau for not endorsing a public inquiry, accusing him of trying to cover-up Chinese influence.

"Trudeau is showing nothing but contempt for parliament, and for our democracy, by stonewalling efforts to investigate foreign interference and by refusing to treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves," Conservative Party MP Michael Cooper said in a statement.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Richard Chang, Steve Scherer and Leslie Adler)