Foreign interference may have changed the 2021 result in a BC, according to an investigation

Attempted foreign meddling did not change who won the last two federal elections in Canada, but they may have changed the outcome in one of the 2021 elections, a public inquiry concluded Friday.

A preliminary report from Commissioner Marie-Josee Hogue said the extent of the impact of foreign interference in certain constituencies is uncertain, although the number of races involved is small.

“The ultimate effects of foreign interference remain uncertain,” it said in its interim report.

He highlighted the 2021 results in Steveston-Richmond East, British Columbia, where there is a “reasonable possibility” that a potential foreign interference campaign targeting Conservative candidate Kenny Chiu may have cost him the seat.

“I go no further than that,” Hogue wrote.

Misleading information about Chiu and former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole appeared on media outlets and social media sites with ties to Beijing, portraying them as anti-China and attempting to dissuade Chinese Canadians from voting for them.

The actual impact of that campaign on the final vote is “difficult to determine,” Hogue concluded.

“In Canada, the way someone votes is secret. Therefore, it is not possible to directly link misleading media narratives to how a given voter cast their vote,” the report says.

“And even if you assumed that some votes were changed, there is no way to know if enough votes were changed to affect the outcome.”

O’Toole testified during the inquiry’s public hearings that he believed misinformation may have cost him up to nine seats in the 2021 election.

That wasn’t enough to change the overall results (the Liberals won 160 seats to the Conservatives’ 119), but O’Toole said he believes victories in those constituencies may have allowed him to remain leader. He was ousted by the Conservative group in February, less than five months after the election.

Hogue said the evidence he has seen does not allow him to draw any conclusions about the broader impact of this interference.

“I do not intend to minimize the legitimate concerns of those who raised these issues. “My findings are limited to the evidence before me,” he said.

The commission also examined a battle for the 2019 Liberal nomination in Don Valley North, in the Toronto area, where Han Dong won the nomination.

The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service flagged a possible plot involving a bus full of Chinese international students with falsified documents provided by a proxy agent.

Hogue said there was insufficient evidence to draw conclusions about what really happened, nor was it in the commission’s mandate to do so.

“However, this incident makes clear the extent to which nominating contests can be gateways for foreign states that wish to interfere in our democratic processes,” he said.

The criteria for voting in a nomination race, decided by political parties, do not seem very strict, as do the control measures, he added. That’s something Hogue plans to examine further in the next phase of the investigation.

Dong won the seat in the 2019 election but left the Liberal Party last year to take up a position as an independent MP when the allegations came to light.

The commission also heard evidence about a phone call between Dong and a Chinese consular official in which they discussed the arbitrary detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China. The couple was jailed in December 2018 in what is seen as retaliation for Canada’s role in detaining Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou days earlier.

Media reports based on leaked intelligence alleged that Dong advocated against his release in that conversation with the consular official, something Dong has denied.

A summary of intelligence released by the investigation suggests that Dong warned the Chinese official that even if the “Two Michaels” were released, opposition parties would see it as an assertion that a hardline approach toward the PRC It was effective.

Hogue made no mention of that conversation in his interim report.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2024.

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