The Richmond Conservative MP defeated almost two years ago after an alleged China-sponsored disinformation campaign called Thursday’s long overdue announcement of a public inquiry into foreign interference “better than nothing.”
Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc named Justice Marie-Josée Hogue of Quebec’s Court of Appeal to act as the commissioner under the Inquiries Act.
She will conduct public hearings about meddling by China, Russia and other state and non-state actors in the 2019 and 2021elections, and must file her first report by the end of February 2024. Her final report is due at the end of December 2024.
The announcement came almost six months after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s failed appointment of former Gov. Gen. David Johnston as a “special rapporteur.” In late May, Johnston recommended against a public inquiry, claiming too many top-secret files and not enough evidence of Chinese government interference. He quit two weeks later due to allegations of conflict of interest from opposition leaders. Negotiations on finding a judge to oversee a public inquiry and deciding terms of reference continued throughout the summer.
“A little bit of something is better than nothing,” said Kenny Chiu, who lost Steveston-Richmond East to Liberal Parm Bains in the Sept. 20, 2021 election.
“For me, it's like pulling teeth, every step of the way you have to push back, actively resist and we're getting to where we are today. The next thing is, what about the registry, the foreign interference registry? [Former public safety minister Marco] Mendicino, when he was in charge of that file, conducted, across the country, town halls and hearings and all that. Where is it? What is happening? We don't know. It's also constantly shrouded in secrecy.”
Before election day in 2021, Chiu went public with evidence of a disinformation campaign that falsely alleged his proposed foreign agent registry would make Chinese “second-class citizens” in Canada if the Conservatives won. Chiu had also voted to condemn the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims as a genocide, for which he was sanctioned by Beijing.
A video clip that circulated on WeChat showed supporters of an unregistered third party called the Chinese Canadians Goto Vote Association, which purported to be non-partisan, holding Bains’ campaign signs while meeting the Liberal candidate during the final days of the campaign. Two of the men were members of local groups related to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front propaganda and influence program.
Last February, The Globe and Mail reported on a leaked report from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) that indicated Chinese diplomat Tong Xiaoling boasted of helping defeat Chiu.
Chiu is also dissatisfied that Hogue’s first deadline is so soon, he worries that the focus could be shifted away from China and that the inquiry could be derailed by a collapse in the Trudeau minority government before the scheduled October 2025 election.
“Not even six months, five months away,” said Chiu, who is attending the Conservative policy convention in Quebec City. “The scope is also expanded because the NDP wanted to include Russia.”
Nonetheless, Chiu said, “if the commissioner deems my input is valuable, I'm more than happy to share. It’s important that we also hear from other Canadians across the country.”
After Johnston’s resignation, new RCMP commissioner Michael Duheme testified to a House of Commons committee that there are more than 100 foreign interference investigations ongoing, including one about the targeting of Conservative MP Michael Chong by Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei, who was expelled May 8.
NDP Vancouver-East MP Jenny Kwan and former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole both went public about their meetings with CSIS agents who outlined the threats against them. The Commissioner of Canada Elections is also investigating foreign interference and Duheme pledged support from the Mounties.
In August, Kwan threw her support behind E-petition e-4534 that calls upon the House of Commons to pass a foreign agents registry law. One of the supporters, Mabel Tung of the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement, urged LeBlanc in a Wednesday letter to resist fearmongering and pass the foreign agents’ registry without further delay.
“We sent out a letter to Minister LeBlanc yesterday without knowing there will be a public inquiry. It won’t change our message,” Tung said.
Tung’s letter said a law to require agents of foreign governments to register before lobbying the feds would help protect Canadian sovereignty and safeguard democracy and the welfare of Canadians of all ethnicities.
“For too long we have seen China's undue influence seeping into our community and it's time to put a stop to that,” Tung wrote.