Canadian military found Chinese monitoring buoys in the Arctic
The Canadian military found and retrieved Chinese monitoring buoys in the Arctic this past fall, a development whose public exposure adds another item to a list of pressing concerns about Beijing’s interventions in Canadian affairs, including interference in recent federal elections.
The buoys were spotted by the Canadian Armed Forces as part of Operation Limpid, a continuing effort to provide early detection of threats to Canada’s security. Earlier this month, the North American Aerospace Defence Command shot down a different Chinese surveillance device: a high-altitude balloon that traversed North America before it was destroyed.
Daniel Le Bouthillier, head of media relations at the Department of National Defence, did not provide details on the effort to retrieve the buoys, but confirmed the interception.
“The Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are fully aware of recent efforts by China to conduct surveillance operations in Canadian airspace and maritime approaches utilizing dual-purpose technologies,” he said in a statement. Dual-purpose technology is equipment that can be used for both civilian and military applications.
“Under Operation LIMPID, the CAF monitors Canada’s air, land and sea approaches, and since 2022, it has stopped attempts to surveil Canadian territory,” he added.
He declined to elaborate on what was found. “To ensure the integrity of operations, we are unable to provide further information at this time,” he said.
Retired lieutenant-general Michael Day said the Chinese buoys would likely have been used to monitor U.S. nuclear submarine traffic in the Arctic, and for mapping seabeds and ice thickness. Beijing is eyeing shipping through northern waters, which are becoming more navigable as a result of climate change.
“China, like most nations, is super interested in the pretty significant changes that are happening up north. They do not have an icebound port, but they do have a rapidly growing icebreaking fleet,” he said. Travel through the Arctic would be significantly shorter for Chinese ships than navigating around the southern tip of South America, he noted.
Mr. Day said Beijing is also interested in trying to exploit the Arctic seabed’s significant resource deposits, and in keeping tabs on Canadian and U.S. military activities.
Since the fall, Parliament has been grappling with allegations of Chinese interference in Canadian politics. The Commons committee on procedure and House affairs has been probing whether Beijing meddled in the 2019 federal election.
The committee met Tuesday to expand its study to include the 2021 election, in response to a report in The Globe and Mail that Chinese diplomats and their proxies had worked to influence voters to elect a Liberal minority that year, and defeat Conservatives whom Beijing viewed as anti-China.
Based on secret and top secret Canadian Security and Intelligence Service documents, The Globe revealed that China’s tactics in 2021 included making illegal cash donations, spreading disinformation and using paid students to help preferred Liberal candidates.
“This should alarm every Canadian, and it should most certainly alarm those who have responsibility to protect Canada’s democratic institutions,” Conservative MP Michael Cooper told the committee on Tuesday. “It should have prompted immediate action by the government, but that did not happen.”
The Conservatives tabled a motion at the committee, supported by the Bloc Québécois, to call for testimony from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, as well as former public safety minister Bill Blair and former foreign affairs minister Marc Garneau. Both men held those portfolios during the 2021 election.
Liberal MPs, along with NDP MP Peter Julian, voted against calling those officials, and the motion failed. They agreed nevertheless to expand the scope of the committee’s study to include the 2021 election.
The Liberals and NDP have a confidence and supply agreement, under which the New Democrats support the Trudeau government on confidence matters. Mr. Cooper accused the NDP of helping the government block a fuller inquiry.
The Conservatives on the committee had also wanted the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to submit all 2021-election-related documents, including those viewed by The Globe, to the Commons Law Clark for redaction and release to the committee. But that proposal was dropped when it became clear it would not have the support of the Liberals and NDP.
“We are seeing the Liberal-NDP coalition at work covering up the inaction of the Prime Minister to respond to this serious issue … They would like to whitewash and hide material from this committee,” Mr. Cooper said in an interview. “More than 18 months after the 2021 election there is no evidence that any action was taken by this government. There have been no charges laid. No diplomats expelled.”
The NDP’s Mr. Julian said The Globe’s reports about foreign interference in the past federal election “are rightly, incredibly concerning to Canadians.” He said he intends to introduce a motion to compel the government to produce documents about foreign interference.
“This has to be done in a thoughtful way, to ensure Canadians have the answers they need. The information in The Globe’s report shows that the Election Act was likely contravened – the law seems to have been broken – and this cannot stand,” he said.
The Globe has reported that CSIS warned the government that Beijing had allegedly interfered in the 2019 federal election, through an orchestrated and organized campaign that covertly supported at least 11 federal candidates (nine Liberals and two Conservatives).
In response to The Globe’s story on the 2021 election, Mr. Trudeau told reporters at a Friday news conference that he expects CSIS to find out who is leaking the secret reports. And he reiterated his long-held view that Chinese interference operations did not affect the overall results of the 2019 and 2021 elections.
“It’s certainly a sign that security within CSIS needs to be reviewed. And I’m expecting CSIS to take the issue very seriously,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Liberal MP Jennifer O’Connell accused the committee’s Conservatives on Tuesday of being “reckless” in seeking top secret documents in a public forum, calling their efforts “nothing more than a fishing expedition.”
The Globe has also reported that Canadian politicians, officials and business executives are main targets of Chinese government espionage that employs blackmail, bribery and sexual seduction, with Beijing even enlisting the Bank of China in its foreign-influence activities.
Secret and top-secret CSIS documents viewed by The Globe outline how China instructed its consulates and visa offices to alert Beijing to prominent and influential Canadians – whom it called “work targets” – planning to visit China.
In addition, the Bank of China has been told to inform consulates of the travel plans of Canadian business executives attending conferences sponsored by the state-owned financial institution, according to a Feb. 2, 2022 intelligence report that is rated top secret.
Documents also show that Chinese diplomats quietly issued warnings to “friendly” influential Canadians in early 2022, advising them to reduce their contact with federal politicians to avoid being caught up in foreign-interference investigations by Canada’s spy agency.
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Foreign interference: Conservatives forcing vote on new study – CTV News
In an effort to keep the foreign interference story at the forefront, and to do an apparent end run around the Liberal filibuster blocking one study from going ahead, the Conservatives forced the House to spend Monday debating a motion instructing an opposition-dominated House committee to strike its own review.
Monday was a Conservative opposition day in the House of Commons, allowing the Official Opposition to set the agenda, and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre picked a motion that, if passed, would have the House of Commons Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee embark on a fresh foreign interference study. The motion is set to come to a vote on Tuesday.
The motion also contains clear instructions that the committee—chaired by Conservative MP John Brassard— call Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford to testify under oath, followed by numerous other officials and players believed to have insight surrounding allegations of interference by China in last two federal elections.
Among the other names the Conservatives are pushing to come testify: Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, authors of the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol reports for the 2019 and 2021 elections James Judd and Morris Rosenberg, respectively, and former Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation officials.
Also on the list: many federal security officials who have already testified and told MPs they are limited in what they can say publicly, current and former ambassadors to China, a panel of past national campaign directors as well as the representatives on the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) task force from each major party.
Trudeau’s name is not on the witness list, but that could change down the line depending on the trajectory of the testimony and how the story evolves. In order to fit in what would be more than a dozen additional hours of testimony, the motion prescribes that the committee meet at least one extra day each week regardless of whether the House is sitting, and have priority access to House resources.
All of this was sparked by The Globe and Mail and Global News reports citing largely unnamed intelligence sources alleging specific attempts by Beijing to alter the outcomes of the 2019 and 2021 campaigns and what the opposition thinks is an insufficient response by the Liberal government.
Officials have repeatedly asserted the integrity of both elections held, despite China’s interference efforts.
WILL NDP BACK THIS? IS A CONFIDENCE VOTE COMING?
The Conservative motion dominated Monday’s question period, with two central questions swirling: How will the NDP vote? And will the Liberals make it a confidence vote?
So far the NDP have not tipped their hat in terms of their voting intention, with signals being sent that the caucus is still considering its options, while expressing some concerns with the motion’s scope and witness list.
During debate, NDP House Leader Peter Julian said that while the motion has some positive elements, others are curious. He pointed to a motion the New Democrats will be advancing later this week, asking for a public inquiry into foreign interference efforts broadly, as better addressing Canadians’ calls than focusing in just on China.
The Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois wouldn’t have the votes to see it pass without them, and one-by-one Conservative MPs have risen in the House to put more pressure on the NDP to vote with them.
“While this motion is a test for this government, it is also a test for the NDP,” said Conservative MP and one of the party’s leading spokespeople on the story Michael Cooper, kicking off the debate on Monday.
“The NDP has a choice: They can continue to do the bidding for this corrupt Liberal government, propping up this corrupt prime minister. Or, they can work with us to protect the sanctity of the ballot box and the integrity of our elections by working to get the answers that Canadians deserve… We will soon find out what choice they make,” Cooper said.
The New Democrats have been in favour of an as-public-as-possible airing of the facts around interference, including hearing from Telford and other top staffers, as they’ve been pushing for at the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC).That effort though, has been stymied by close to 24 hours of Liberal filibustering preventing the proposal from coming to a vote.
If the New Democrats support Poilievre’s motion, it’ll pass and spark this new committee study.
But, if the Liberals want to shut this effort down, Trudeau could declare it a confidence motion and tie NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s hands, unless he’s ready to end the confidence-and-supply agreement, which is coming up on its one-year anniversary.
The premise of the pact is that the NDP would prop-up the Liberals on any confidence votes in exchange for progressive policy action. Part of the deal predicates discussions between the two parties on vote intentions ahead of declaring a vote is a matter of confidence.
In weighing whether this is confidence vote-worthy, Trudeau would likely be assessing whether risking an election call over an election interference controversy —which could be the result of a failed confidence vote given the Liberals’ minority standing—is the right move.
Asked by reporters on Monday whether the prime minister will be designating the vote a matter of confidence, Government House Leader Mark Holland wouldn’t say.
“We are having ongoing discussions and dialogue. I think that it’s not helpful to jump to the end of a process when we’re still having conversations, Holland said. “I understand the temptation to go to the end of the process when we’re still in the middle of it…We’re in a situation right now where we continue to have these discussions.”
In weighing whether this is confidence vote-worthy, Trudeau’s top advisers would likely be assessing whether risking an election call over an election interference controversy —which could be the result of a failed confidence vote given the Liberals’ minority standing—is the right move.
Decrying the motion as “heavily steeped in partisan politics” with the objective of playing “games with what is an enormously serious issue,” Holland suggested that some of those listed by the Conservatives, including Telford, were not best placed to speak to concerns around foreign interference in the last two elections.
“It is not a move aimed at trying to get answers, or trying to get information,” Holland said.
The Liberal House leader also echoed the prime minister’s past position that calling staffers who can’t say much, and other officials who have already testified, to come and say again that they’re unable to answer more detailed questions due to their oaths to uphold national security, won’t help assuage Canadians’ concerns over China’s interference.
POILIEVRE ONCE OPPOSED STAFFERS TESTIFYING
During his time as democratic reform minister under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, Poilievre was opposed—as the Liberals are now— to having staff testify at committees.
Asked why it is so important from his party’s perspective to have Telford appear, Poilievre said last week that because she’s been involved with Trudeau’s campaigns, from his leadership bid through the last two federal elections, she would be aware of all of the intelligence briefings he’d been provided. He did not acknowledge that, like the prime minister, she too would be restricted in speaking publicly about them.
“She knows all the secrets. It’s time for her to come forward and honestly testify about what happened. What was Beijing’s role in supporting Justin Trudeau? And how do we prevent this kind of interference from ever happening again in Canada?” Poilievre said.
This move comes after Trudeau’s pick of former governor general David Johnston as the special rapporteur to look into foreign interference and provide recommendations to further shore up Canada’s democracy became highly politicized over Conservative and Bloc Quebecois questioning of his impartiality and potential conflict of interest given his connections to the Trudeau family and foundation.
On Friday, Trudeau said the Conservatives are politicizing the important issue of Canadians’ confidence in elections, while defending his pick as “absolutely unimpeachable.” He sought to explain why he’s gone the route of tapping an independent investigator and asking for closed-door national security bodies to review the facts.
“Canadians aren’t even sure if this government is really focused on their best interests or is in the pockets of some foreign government. That’s something that needs to be dealt with extraordinarily seriously,” Trudeau said. “And the partisan nature of politics means that no matter what I say, people are going to wonder— if they didn’t vote for me— whether or not they can trust me. And that polarization is getting even more serious.”
Pointing to Poilievre’s past cabinet position, Trudeau noted: “He was in charge of the integrity of our elections. He was in charge at the time, of making sure that China or others weren’t influencing our elections. He understands how important this, or he should.”
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