Alleged meddling by China's government goes deeper than elections: Hong Kong pro-democracy group in Canada

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim answers questions on Thursday about CSIS allegations of foreign interference in the 2022 municipal election. (Justine Boulin/CBC - image credit)
Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim answers questions on Thursday about CSIS allegations of foreign interference in the 2022 municipal election. (Justine Boulin/CBC - image credit)

The executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong says foreign interference in Canadian elections isn't news to Chinese-born people living in Canada.

Cherie Wong was speaking on CBC's The Early Edition on Friday about allegations of Chinese meddling in last year's Vancouver municipal election, which saw Ken Sim elected as the city's first mayor of Chinese descent.

Sim defeated incumbent mayor Kennedy Stewart by almost 37,000 votes.

On Thursday, The Globe and Mail reported that China's Vancouver consulate interfered in the 2022 municipal election, based on information it says comes from a January 2022 Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) report detailing how China's then-consul general talked about electing a specific Chinese Canadian candidate.

Wong — whose organization describes itself as a pro-democracy group that seeks to empower Canada-Hong Kong community groups to take political action — says foreign interference extends outside of elections.

"We have seen a lot of different types of interference into Canadian society," Wong said. "I think the most obvious one would be surveillance and intimidation of dissidents and diaspora members. We often live in a culture of fear, worrying that if we anger Beijing, then our families back home would be threatened."

She added, "diaspora members are worried that if they voice their concerns, then their job promotions, their businesses, their social relationships would be at risk as well."

Wong says those concerns are also common for Chinese people born in Canada.

"There's very close ties within the communities here in Canada and our families who are back home," she said. "This is an intergenerational issue."

Justine Boulin/CBC News
Justine Boulin/CBC News

Former governor general looks into meddling 

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the controversy now surrounding the 2022 Vancouver municipal election.

"I think we have to be very, very careful when little bits and pieces of uncorroborated, unverified information, get put out and people instantly react with perspectives and reactions that can undermine the ability of the duly-elected mayor of Vancouver to do his job — to undermine people in Vancouver's faith in the integrity of their elections, of their processes and of the person who is serving them at the highest level," the prime minister said.

Trudeau has also tapped former governor general David Johnston to investigate claims that China meddled in Canada's last two federal elections.

Speaking on The Early Edition, Jimmy Yan, an immigrant from China who is a commentator on Fairchild Radio and Fairchild TV, said it should be left to Johnston to decide if there will be a public inquiry into foreign interference.

Yan, however, said he thinks a foreign influence transparency registry would help stop interference in elections.

"With new measures in place, I think we'll improve and enhance our democratic election system," he said.

'Where is their source?'

On Thursday, former Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang questioned the reliability of the information in the 2022 CSIS report.

"Where is their source?" he asked on CBC's B.C.Today. "Did they interview someone who was anti-China, so that's where they're getting all their information from? Were they spying on the consul generals and things like that? Well, that's a whole other layer, and this is the difficulty here."