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RCMP opens investigation into claims China intimidated MP Chong

Mounties also working with elections officials on Conservative MP Erin O'Toole and NDP MP Jenny Kwan cases

Conservative MP for Wellington-Halton Hills Michael Chong prepares to appear as a witness at the standing committee on procedure and House affairs on foreign election interference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 16. [Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press]

The head of the RCMP says the national police force is investigating allegations China attempted to target and intimidate Conservative MP Michael Chong and his family.


Commissioner Mike Duheme also told MPs on the procedure and House affairs committee Tuesday morning that he only learned about the matter recently, despite the fact that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) drafted a memo on the matter back in 2021.


"When we were made aware of it, we approached Mr. Chong and began the investigation," Duheme said.


"Any matters that can be charged, any person that can be charged with the Criminal Code, we will do so."


The committee is studying an alleged 2021 Beijing plot to amass information on Chong's family in retaliation for his efforts to recognize the persecution of Uyghurs as genocide. Duheme said Chong's case is one of more than 100 investigations the RCMP has opened on foreign interference.


The committee is also looking into how information from CSIS is shared, or not, with other agencies and the federal cabinet.


Duheme, who appeared alongside Deputy Commissioner Mark Flynn, said the RCMP only learned about the Chong matter through media reports.


The Globe and Mail last month published an article, citing a 2021 top-secret CSIS document, saying that China's intelligence agency was seeking information about an unnamed Canadian MP's relatives "who may be located in the PRC, for further potential sanctions." A national security source reportedly told the Globe that the MP targeted was Chong and that Zhao Wei, a Chinese diplomat in Canada, was working on this matter.


"I'm aware of that type of threat being present but I was not aware of the specifics," Flynn told the committee Tuesday.


"The news that individuals, parliamentarians, and the general public in Canada are subjected to threats and intimidation is not news."


Duheme said he doesn't remember seeing a CSIS memo warning of Beijing's alleged efforts to target parliamentarians.


"I'm not saying that we didn't get it, but I don't recall reading the memo," he said.


Conservative MP Luc Berthold told the two men that it's a "real problem" that the memo from CSIS wasn't shared with the RCMP.


"I wouldn't be proud of that," he said in French.


Both Mounties also addressed the matter of turning raw CSIS intelligence into criminal evidence.

"The reality is we do have distinct organizations with distinct mandates involved in the national security space to combat this threat," Flynn responded. "There is at times an appropriate withholding of specific information."


Duheme added the RCMP welcomes any review of the flow of intelligence.


"I'm not here to judge the service on one single aspect, but if we can improve the flow of information, for sure, for the better of everyone," he said.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his national security and intelligence adviser Jody Thomas and cabinet ministers have also said CSIS never briefed them on the Chong matter and they only learned about it from reports in The Globe.


Thomas testified last week that CSIS sent the memo to her interim predecessor David Morrison and three deputy ministers across government in 2021, but the message effectively went into a "black hole."


Ex-NSIA said CSIS memo wasn't meant to be briefed up

MPs on the committee pounced on that statement Tuesday when Morrison, who served as the acting national security and intelligence adviser during part of the summer of 2021, appeared as a witness.

He told MPs the CSIS memo in question was part of a reading package on Aug. 17, two days after the 2021 election was called. The report did not name Chong or any other MP, he said.


"I have no recollection of receiving it or reading it then," he testified. "I was fully occupied with the evacuation of Afghanistan, as Kabul had fallen only two days before."


Morrison, now the deputy minister at Global Affairs Canada, said he read it once the dust settled but added "the report was never intended to spur action by readers."


"It was certainly not something I would have rushed to brief-up the prime minister on," he said.


Conservative MP Michael Cooper called it "unacceptable" that Morrison didn't raise alarm bells.


"And [it] really undermines your credibility," he said.


Morrison said he did order a follow-up report, which was finished in January 2022, but he had vacated the national security adviser role by that time.


'The process did not work': Vigneault

A recent report from special rapporteur David Johnston — tasked by Prime Minister Trudeau back in March with looking into allegations that China tried to meddle in the past two federal elections — pointed to problems with how intelligence is shared. Johnston announced his resignation as special rapporteur last week, saying his role had become too muddled in political controversy for him to continue.


His first report found that CSIS sent an "issues management note" to then-public safety minister Bill Blair, his chief of staff and his deputy minister in May 2021. He said the note warned of "intelligence that the [People's Republic of China] intended to target Mr. Chong, another MP, and their family in China (if any)."


Blair said he never saw it.


"The director determined this was not information the minister needed to know," the minister told the House affairs committee last week.


CSIS Director David Vigneault, testifying before the House committee Tuesday night, said he didn't make that determination.


"The purpose of this note, it was to bring it to the attention of those people who it [was] destined to," Vigneault said.


"I think the fact that we did an issue management note speaks to the notion that we wanted to highlight the information."


Still, the head of CSIS said it's an example of gaps in intelligence-sharing.


"What is clear is that the process did not work," he said. "There is a need to make significant improvement."


Vigneault also was asked why Chong wasn't briefed on the specifics of China's attempts to intimidate his family and the fact that a Chinese diplomat in Canada was involved.


He said the case highlights the limits on who CSIS is permitted to brief and recommended that Parliament update and modernize the CSIS Act.


RCMP has shared info on O'Toole, Kwan

Duheme and Flynn said the RCMP also offered to assist the commissioner of Canada Elections with other allegations coming from Conservative MP Erin O'Toole and NDP MP Jenny Kwan.


O'Toole told the House of Commons earlier this month that CSIS told him he has been an ongoing target of a Chinese government campaign of misinformation and "voter suppression" that covered the last federal election campaign.


Kwan said CSIS told her she is an "evergreen" target for Beijing. Both opposition MPs said China's government is singling them out over their vocal support for democracy in Hong Kong and for religious and cultural minorities in China.


Kwan said Tuesday she wasn't aware the RCMP was speaking to election investigators about her.


"For my name to be thrown around at committee by the RCMP and other members — every time that happens, it kind of makes you pause, right? It's disturbing to know that there's this ongoing situation," she said.


A spokesperson for the commissioner of Canada Elections said the agency continues to review allegations of foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal general elections but will not provide further details, citing confidentiality.


The RCMP also gave an update Tuesday on the so-called police stations allegedly operated by Beijing on Canadian soil. It said it has closed about seven or eight and continues to investigate.


"We are trying to build the relationship with the communities to have the people come forward and tell us their story, so we can have more evidence to lay appropriate charges " Duheme said.


He added that foreign interference investigations are complex and resource-intensive.

 

(c) 2023, CBC News

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