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Democracy Watch calls on Commissioner of Canada Elections to investigate interference by China in 2019 and 2021 elections

Public inquiry needed only if House Committee and Commissioner fail to investigate fully, reveal key information, and issue public reports recommending comprehensive changes to strengthen election integrity

Bill C-76 in 2018 was much too weak to stop foreign interference, and weakened false claim rules and third-party spending limits

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch release the letter it has sent to Commissioner of Canada Elections Caroline Simard requesting that she investigate and issue, as soon as possible, a public report on whether she will impose penalties on or prosecute anyone involved in China-sponsored interference in the 2019 or 2021 federal elections.

According to reports by Global News, sources claim that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) provided to the federal government the following information:

  1. During the 2019 election at least 11 Liberal and Conservative candidates received funds and support from a network of third-party interest groups and individuals based in Canada, and China’s government was the source of the funds;
  2. The network of groups and individuals received a total of about $250,000 from a Toronto-based organization coordinated by a Toronto businessman, and China’s government Consulate in Toronto was the source of the funds and directed the distribution of the funds, and;
  3. That a Liberal election candidate and a former Ontario Liberal MPP and Cabinet minister were part of the network.

According to the Globe and Mail, sources claim that CSIS provided to the federal government information about the 11 candidates but not about funding being transferred to them, and about the former Ontario Liberal MPP and Cabinet minister, and also about China-sponsored interference also in the 2021 election in support of the Liberals and against the Conservatives, including funneling donations and candidates reimbursing donors the amount not covered by the donation tax credit.

As the letter details, it is a violation of the Canada Elections Act:

  1. For a third party (individual or group) to use foreign money for activities to support or oppose candidates or parties;
  2. For someone who is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to make a donation (ss, 363(1)).
  3. For someone to make a donation that exceeds the annual individual limit (s. 367);
  4. For someone to make a donation using someone else’s or some entity’s money (ss. 370(1)) (including volunteering while being paid by someone else or some other entity);
  5. For a third party to fail to register if they spend more than $500 (s. 352);
  6. For a third party to collude with a candidate or party, including by sharing information (s. 351.01).

“Enough evidence of China-government sponsored election interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections has been reported to make it clear that the Commissioner needs to do a full investigation and issue a public report of what the investigation reveals concerning violations of Canada’s election law,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “A public inquiry would delay the enactment of clearly needed changes, and will only be needed if the Commissioner, the House Committee and the national security committee of parliamentarians fail to investigate China’s election interference fully, fail to reveal key information about what happened, or fail to issue public, comprehensive reports recommending all the key changes needed to stop future interference.”

“The Liberal’s Bill C-76 in 2018 was much too weak to stop foreign interference, and it actually weakened rules prohibiting false claims and excessive election spending by wealthy individuals and interest groups, and the Prime Minister essentially controls the monitoring and disclosure of foreign interference in our elections, so it is already clear that many changes are needed to ensure fair and democratic federal elections,” said Conacher.

As Democracy Watch pointed out at the time, the Liberal government’s Bill C-76 in 2018 was much too weak to stop foreign interference, and actually weakened some rules, as:

  1. It failed to prohibit collusion between third parties (individuals, businesses or groups) and nomination race contestants (or party leadership race contestants), including voting by non-citizens in those races.
  2. It failed to decrease the too-high donation limit, which makes it easier for someone or some entity to funnel money to others to make large donations to candidates and parties.
  3. It failed to prohibit third parties from funneling money to each other to hide the actual source of funds used in election spending.
  4. It more than doubled the amount that third parties can spend supporting candidates and parties during an election campaign, and set meaninglessly high spending limits for third parties during the pre-election period, which makes collusion between third parties easier.
  5. It weakened rules in ways that allow for more false claims about candidates and party leaders.
  6. And it failed to empower Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections to order social media companies to remove false posts and ads (and the 2021 budget also failed to address the false claims problem).

As well, the Liberal government’s election integrity plan was too weak and focused on the twin charades of educating citizens to recognize misinformation (which is impossible unless you are an expert in everything) and cooperating with social media companies that continue largely ineffective efforts to stop misinformation.

In addition, the Liberal government’s so-called “independent” Critical Election Incident Public Protocol Panel is not independent at all, as it is made up of public servants who were chosen by, and serve at the pleasure of, Prime Minister Trudeau, and the Cabinet Directive for the Protocol has several flaws, as follows:

  1. It is not legally binding on the Panel, and there are no penalties if the Panel violates any part of the Protocol;
  2. The section 6.0 process sets a much-too-high threshold for informing the public of interference (the interference essentially must threaten the ability of the entire national election to be free and fair);
  3. Even if the Panel decides (by consensus) that the interference meets the threshold, the section 5.0 process does not set any deadline by which the Panel is required to inform anyone of the interference;
  4. The section 9.0 Assessment also does not set any deadline by which a so-called “independent” report is required to be released about the effectiveness of the Protocol at “addressing threats” during the previous election.
  5. The section 9.0 Assessment is done by whomever the ruling party Cabinet chooses, so the assessor is not independent in any way. Trudeau’s Cabinet chose Morris Rosenberg, former head of the Trudeau Foundation when the Foundation received a $200,000 donation donation from two China-connected businessmen, to do the assessment for the 2021 election. Mr. Rosenberg’s contract terms have not been disclosed in the federal government contract registry.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Money in Politics Campaign, Honesty in Politics Campaign, and Stop Fake Online Election Ads Campaign