Canada must protect itself against foreign interference in future elections: expert

VANCOUVER – Ottawa needs to find a way to safeguard future elections from interference by foreign powers, such as the Chinese Communist Party, says an expert on China-Canada relations.

Earlier this week, through its DisinfoWatch project, the Ottawa-based Macdonald-Laurier Institute in a report expressed concern about the Chinese government’s apparent attacks on the credibility of conservatives and other issues in Canada’s election.

“We really need to protect our democracy from foreign influence,” said Charles Burton, a China expert at the institute. “We have to do something about it.”

The short report details incidents, some high-profile, by Chinese government-controlled entities influencing Canada’s federal elections.

One of those incidents mentioned in the report relates to comments made by Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu in the Hill Times, a newspaper that covers Parliament Hill.

Cong referred to those who oppose the extradition of Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou as “Canadians with vision.” The report maintains that this was an attempt to influence voters who may sympathize with the Communist Party of China.

Burton said Cong’s comments are “inconsistent” with his position as a foreign diplomat.

“He really seriously questions whether he should be declared persona non grata and returned to Beijing,” Burton said of the comments.

Burton said there is no evidence at this time that the Chinese government was behind certain disinformation campaigns detailed in the report, but said authorities should examine it.

In another incident, the Global Times newspaper, a Chinese state tabloid often referred to by Chinese analysts as a spokesperson for the CCP, published an editorial that the report said appears to threaten Canadians with retaliation if conservatives are elected and introduced. stronger measures in Porcelain. Some other attacks targeted the candidates themselves, the report says.

Burton said efforts aimed at speaking to the Chinese diaspora in Canada are particularly concerning.

One of those incidents was an anonymous article on the widely used Chinese social media platform Weixin suggesting that a foreign agent registration proposed by Conservative MP Kenny Chiu would require all Chinese to register with it.

The report raises concerns that the article could affect the elections because it was reprinted on various platforms and websites in Chinese.

In reality, Chiu’s bill says it would have required those acting “on behalf of a foreign principle to submit a declaration when they take specific actions with respect to public office holders.” Conservatives have promised to introduce similar legislation if elected.

Elections Canada spokeswoman Andrea Marantz said such complaints about misinformation are handled by the Office of the Canadian Elections Commissioner.

Marantz said other government agencies are involved in problems related to foreign government manipulation in Canadian elections.

“In terms of security issues like that, which are national security issues, we would work with other branches of government and organizations,” he said. “So, it’s not something that falls on us.”

Cheuk Kwan of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China said he is concerned that anonymous disinformation is being used to make Chinese communities in Canada feel attacked and, in turn, feel that the CCP is their protector.

“They present themselves as the defenders of Canadian Chinese rights,” Kwan said of the efforts. “This is offensive to me.”

Kwan said blatant efforts have already been made to denounce Canadian politicians, such as Chiu, as traitors to the Chinese people. Both Chiu and fellow conservative Michael Chong have been sanctioned by the Chinese government for speaking out against the CCP’s human rights violations.

Burton said misinformation and misinformation could influence an election at a time when the results are close. He said that a great challenge is to reach the people who have read it to make things clear. Canada should also try to determine the source of such social media posts.

Authorities cannot ignore it, he said, adding that solutions are difficult to find, but Ottawa at least needs to better monitor Chinese-language media.

Pieces constituting hate speech against Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic group accused of genocide by the Chinese government, or gross slander against Canadian politicians must be subjected to the same level of scrutiny as the English media. or French, Burton said.

“If this misinformation actually causes voters to be misinformed about a candidate’s program and therefore vote for a rival candidate, I am very concerned about this possibility,” he said. “I really hope it doesn’t fade once the elections are over.”


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