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Did China meddle in Canada elections to keep Trudeau in power?

In early 2016, a few months after Justin Trudeau was elected as Canada’s Prime Minister for the first time, two Chinese businessmen with alleged ties to the Chinese Community Party (CCP) made a million-dollar “donation” to a foundation named after his father, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.  

The donation has returned to haunt Trudeau’s government as recent media reports claimed that CCP meddled in Canada’s 2019 polls and then again in the 2021 federal elections to ensure the re-election of Trudeau and his Liberal Party, seen as softer towards Beijing than the rival Conservative Party. 

As the opposition parties step up their demands for answers, Trudeau’s government is facing mounting pressure to address China’s alleged involvement.

Even the New Democratic Party lawmakers — which back Trudeau’s minority government — supported the motion to thoroughly investigate China’s actions in the country. 

“We want to know exactly what the Chinese authoritarian government did, and whether there were political parties aware of those actions or not,” Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre told reporters in the capital Ottawa.

Trudeau has acknowledged China’s attempts to interfere in Canada’s political system but resisted a public investigation, noting that Beijing’s efforts did not impact the elections. 

On the other hand, China’s embassy in Ottawa rejected any involvement in Canada’s domestic politics.

Smoking guns

Intelligence officials reportedly briefed Trudeau and some cabinet members last year that China is conducting a wide range of campaigns, including funding at least 11 federal candidates running for the federal election that was held in 2019.

Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), in its briefing, explained that Beijing is making payments through middlemen to the candidates connected with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), installing agents in the PM’s office in order to influence the government’s policy, work corrupt officials to gain leverage over the administration and run aggressive campaigns to disrupt anti-China Canadian politicians. 

The Canadian government on Wednesday released a report on the assessment of the 2021 election authored by Morris Rosenberg, the president and CEO of the Trudeau Foundation, which concluded that there was no evidence that China funnelled cash into elections.

“Canada did not detect foreign interference that threatened Canada’s ability to have free and fair elections,” it said. 

On the other side, Conservatives blame Rosenberg for covering up China’s influence in politics and being involved in a controversial “$200k donation from influential CCP official Bin Zhang”.

The opposition also accuses Zhang of involving in Justin Trudeau’s 2016 “billionaire cash-for-access scandal.”

According to a report, CSIS briefed the PM on liberal politician Hang Dong. 

The report, citing sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the intelligence had identified Dong as “a witting affiliate in China’s election interference networks”.

Trudeau this week defended Dong, a Canadian born to Chinese immigrant parents, as a “patriot”.

Rising tensions

Tensions between Ottawa and Beijing have been on the rise in the last several years due to reciprocal conflicting political moves against each other. 

Canada’s criticism against Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region and its unfair trade practices against Ottawa.

Separately in 2018, Chinese tech company Huawei’s boss Meng Wanzhou – who was charged with “conspiracy to defraud multiple international institutions” – was arrested in Canada. China retaliated by detaining two Canadian nationals of espionage. The saga ended by swapping the detainees. 

In 2019, Canada dismissed several researchers led by Xiangguo Qiu, working in National Microbiology Lab (NML) due to a possible “policy breach”. Canadian authorities also arrested last year Yuesheng Wang, a Hydro-Quebec employee, for allegedly illegally working for Chinese institutions during that time.

This week, Canada banned the Chinese social video and messaging app TikTok from using government-issued devices due to security risks and possible data leakages — a move blasted by China. 

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