PM says foreign actors playing 'aggressive games' with Canadian democracy, institutions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the official groundbreaking ceremony for the Moderna vaccine production facility Monday, November 7, 2022  in Laval, Quebec. Trudeau responded at the news conference to a report that he'd been briefed on a Chinese operation to interfere in the 2019 federal election. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says bad actors abroad are playing "aggressive games" with Canada's democracy and pledged Monday to support Canadian security agencies tasked with countering foreign influence operations in Canada.

Trudeau was responding to a Global News story which reported that Canadian intelligence officials alerted him in January to a Chinese campaign of interference in the 2019 federal election.

Sources told Global a series of Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) briefing notes to the prime minister and several cabinet ministers said China covertly funded 11 candidates in the 2019 federal election. The sources told Global the briefings did not identify the candidates.

The briefing notes further allege that China worked to get its agents employed in the offices of members of Parliament.

"Unfortunately we're seeing that countries, state actors from around the world, whether it's China or others, are continuing to play aggressive games with our institutions, with our democracies," Trudeau told a news conference Monday.

"The world is changing, and sometimes in quite scary ways, and we need to make sure that those who are tasked with keeping us safe every single day are able to do that, and that's why we'll continue to invest in some of the tools and resources necessary to do that."

Trudeau did not commit to introducing any new laws to crack down on foreign influence operations in Canada.

"There are already significant laws and measures that our intelligence and security officials have to go against foreign actors operating on Canadian soil," he said.

"We will continue to make sure that they have the necessary resources, and we will continue to look at giving them more tools as necessary to both stand true to our values and to ensure that Canadians are safe and protected."

Michael Chong, the Conservative foreign affairs critic, and Pierre Paul-Hus, the party's Quebec lieutenant, said in a media statement that the government needs to come up with a plan to address Chinese interference.

"Conservatives are extremely troubled by a recent media report that Canada has been the target of extensive foreign interference by Beijing in the 2019 election," they said in a statement posted to Twitter Tuesday.

"It's long past time for the Trudeau government to come forward with a robust plan to counter Beijing's foreign interference operations here on Canadian soil."

Joe Fiorino/CBC
Joe Fiorino/CBC

A spokesperson for China's foreign ministry said China's government has "no interest in Canada's internal affairs."

"Relations between countries can only be built on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit. China-Canada relations are no exception," Zhao Lijan said Tuesday at a news conference.

"The Canadian side should stop making remarks that would harm bilateral relations."