China working to get Canadians 'at each other's throats': interference researcher
OTTAWA — The managing director of a non-profit that tracks Chinese attempts to influence democracies around the world says Beijing wants to sow discord in western countries.
David Salvo says the Alliance for Securing Democracy has been mapping and cataloguing Russian and Chinese interference since 2000.
Salvo was speaking to the procedure and House affairs committee, which is studying foreign interference in response to allegations that China tried to meddle in the last two federal elections.
He says his group's work also tracks incidents in Canada, and that the tactics also include targeting think tanks and student associations to shape discourse or promote censorship.
The committee also heard from former Conservative member of Parliament Kenny Chiu, who has previously claimed he was the target of a misinformation campaign on Chinese-language social media during the 2021 election.
Chiu told the committee he did not experience foreign interference in either the 2015 or the 2019 elections but the most recent vote was different.
He says the level of organization he witnessed leads him to believe he was the target of a campaign to influence the vote.
Salvo says his group aims to show that the tools used by Beijing are not partisan or politically motivated, for the most part.
It has developed a tracker of events dating back 23 years.
"We are having a political debate about moments in which an authoritarian government might weigh in, trying to shape a particular election campaign," he said.
"However, really, the tracker shows hundreds of cases of how these tools are being used well outside the context of electoral democracy, simply to get Canadians and Americans and Europeans at each other's throats and to denigrate the whole process of living in a democratic society."
The Alliance for Securing Democracy, which is housed at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, develops strategies to defend against interference in democratic institutions.
He suggested that MPs put aside partisan politics and specific incidents, and focus instead on the tools and tactics being used by authoritarian regimes to interfere in democracies around the world.
"That I think will help, as we have learned in the States, that's really broken down some of the partisan divides to at least shed light on these tactics and make ordinary voters aware of how they might be targeted at the local level," he said.
Members of the committee from the Conservative and Liberal parties in particular spent much of their time questioning Chiu.
Liberal MP Jennifer O'Connell suggested it was his voting record in the House of Commons on legislation to ban so-called conversion therapy that ignited a movement within the Steveston-Richmond East riding. Chiu accused her of trying to smear his reputation.
Asked whether he thinks the government ought to call a public inquiry into foreign interference, Chiu said yes.
He also told the committee he believes that he and former Conservative MP Alice Wong were targeted by a Chinese consular official in Vancouver who was previously accused in a media report of trying to ensure the Liberals won the 2021 election. He acknowledged that he does not have evidence to support the claim.
"The Conservative Party of Canada has been portrayed as not friendly to the (Chinese Communist Party) regime in Beijing," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2023.
Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press