When it comes to defending Canada from the menace posed by the People’s Republic of China, it is now a matter of public record, and should be a matter of some embarrassment to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, if not shame, that the course his government embarked upon for years was dangerously naive, if not recklessly thoughtless.
It’s a tragedy that it took the Chinese Ministry of State Security’s kidnapping of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and cultural entrepreneur Michael Spavor to prove that the Beijing regime was not the “win-win, golden decade” friend and trade partner Trudeau had incessantly harped about. Robert Schellenberg, dubiously convicted on drug-smuggling charges in the first place, had his 15-year jail sentence upgraded to a cell on death row. Canada’s canola exporters are stuck with $2.7 billion in export contracts that Beijing has ripped up. Threats of further punishment hang in the air.
It’s all because Canada detained Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou last December on a U.S. Justice Department extradition warrant. Meng is sought by the U.S. to face charges of fraud and dodging sanctions on Iran. Beijing needed to throw somebody up against a wall and slap him around, so President Xi Jinping chose Justin Trudeau.
Beijing’s complex campaigns of subversion, threats, influence-buying, bullying and espionage in Canada stretch back much farther than last December, of course. So does the sleazy tendency of Canadian politicians to look the other way, or rush to Beijing’s defence whenever anyone in the intelligence community publicly notices the obvious, or throw the director of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service under the bus for pointing it out.
When CSIS director Richard Fadden had the temerity to point out nearly a decade ago that there were provincial cabinet ministers and other elected officials in Canada who had fallen under Beijing’s general influence, several Liberal and NDP MPs demanded his resignation.
So it was refreshing to see that Tuesday’s first-ever annual report from the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) made no bones about it. China is a threat to Canada’s national security, the committee found.
Terrorism, espionage and foreign influence, cyber threats, major organized crime and weapons of mass destruction were all listed in the NSICOP report among the top threats to Canada. China figures in the report’s findings under espionage and foreign influence, and under cyber threats as well.
Russia is right up there, too, and although the report is redacted in several places, other unnamed governments were reported to be busy with the same dirty work. But it was the novelty of China being singled out for once, in a high-level federal government intelligence report, that’s worth noticing. Usually, Ottawa lets China get away with anything.
“China is known globally for its efforts to influence Chinese communities and the politics of other countries. The Chinese government has a number of official organizations that try to influence Chinese communities and politicians to adopt pro-China positions, most prominently the United Front Work Department,” the report states, referring directly to Fadden’s whistleblowing in 2010.
The report also notes a 2017 warning from David Mulroney, a former ambassador to China, about Beijing’s influence-peddling efforts in Canada. To get what it wants, Beijing mobilizes student groups, diaspora groups, “and people who have an economic stake in China, to work behind the scenes.” The report also notes the unsavoury business of lavish political donations on offer from Chinese businessmen with close links to China’s Communist Party leadership.
Two years ago, the Financial Times obtained the United Front Work Department’s training manual, which boasts about the electoral successes of 10 pro-Beijing politicians in Ontario. “We should aim to work with those individuals and groups that are at a relatively high level, operate within the mainstream of society and have prospects for advancement,” the manual states.
The reason for the public’s relative inattention to influence-and-espionage threats posed by such foreign powers as China and Russia is that the federal government tends to avoid addressing the issue publicly. “As it stands now, an interested Canadian would have to search a number of government websites to understand the most significant threats to Canada,” the committee found.
“For some threats, such as terrorism, information is readily available and regularly updated . … For other threats, such as organized crime or interference in Canadian politics, information is often limited, scattered among different sources or incomplete. The committee believes that Canadians would be equally well served if more information about threats were readily available.”
That information is available, of course. It just hasn’t been coming from the federal government. In his just-published book, Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada, veteran foreign-affairs reporter Jonathan Manthorpe painstakingly enumerates the breadth and scope of the United Front Work Department’s organizations in Canada, and Beijing’s intimate links throughout Canada’s business class. Manthorpe relied solely on the public record, showing that Beijing’s strong-arming, its inducements and its subtle and not-so-subtle intimidation have been carried out in plain sight for years.
Last year, a coalition of diaspora groups led by Amnesty International provided CSIS with an exhaustive account of Beijing’s intensive campaign of bullying, threats and harassment targeting Canadian diaspora organizations devoted to Chinese democracy, the Falun Gong spiritual movement, Tibetan sovereignty, and the Uighurs. A Muslim ethnic minority in Xinjiang, the Uighur people are currently being subjected to an overwhelming tyranny of concentration camps, religious persecution, “re-education,” family separation and round-the-clock, pervasive surveillance. “Canada has become a battleground on which the Chinese Communist Party seeks to terrorize, humiliate and neuter its opponents,” says Manthorpe.
That kind of subversion usually occurs behind the scenes. But for years, Confucius Institutes have operated openly in dozens of Canadian universities, colleges and high schools. “In most cases,” Manthorpe contends, “they are espionage outstations for Chinese embassies and consulates through which they control Chinese students, gather information on perceived enemies and intimidate dissidents.”
Because its mandate covers more than a dozen institutions and agencies, NSICOP — first proposed 15 years ago, but only now getting off the ground — had a lot of ground to cover. More than half of the report’s 121 pages are devoted to a review of the intelligence functions of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. But it’s subversion by foreign governments that seems to have caught the Parliamentary committee’s attention — CSIS told NSICOP the foreign-influence threat is becoming more acute, and countering it will call for “a more significant response” in the coming years.
With that in mind, the committee is already working on a followup review of the mandate, priority and resources Ottawa provides Canada’s intelligence community to monitor and counter the foreign-influence threat. The committee’s report is expected to be released before the October federal election, but it won’t be focused on the foreign cyber threats Ottawa is already preparing to monitor and expose during the election campaign.
“We’re going to outline the primary-threat actors, we’re going to be examining the threat those actors pose to our institutions and, to a certain extent, our ethno-cultural communities,” NSICOP chair David McGuinty told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday. “We’re working feverishly to get it done.”
About time, too.