Foreign Meddling Didn’t Impact Canada Election Outcome: Inquiry

(Bloomberg) -- China made some attempts to interfere in the last two Canadian elections but did not affect the overall result or undermine the integrity of the elections, a public inquiry concluded.

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“It is generally impossible to draw a straight line between a particular incident and the outcome of an election,” Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue, a Quebec judge, said in an initial report published Friday.

“However, I can conclude with confidence that the Liberal Party would have been in government with or without foreign interference in 2019 and 2021.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered the inquiry last year after a series of media reports cited classified intelligence memos that Chinese meddling may have helped certain Liberal Party candidates get elected.

Trudeau had initially resisted calling an inquiry due to the challenges of debating national security evidence in public, but eventually relented under pressure from opposition parties.

There were several weeks of public hearings over the first few months of 2024, including testimony from top government officials, party campaign workers, representatives of diaspora communities and Trudeau himself.

Trudeau told the inquiry that Canada had a robust process in place to detect and deter foreign interference. He also said he doubted China would have preferred his re-election, given the severe diplomatic tensions between the two countries following Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and China’s subsequent detention of two Canadian citizens.

In her report, Hogue said that while multiple countries may have attempted to meddle, China “stands out as a main perpetrator of foreign interference against Canada,” according to Canadian security officials.

Those officials assess that China “does not support any particular party, but rather supports politics and positions” that it views as favorable to the government in Beijing, Hogue said.

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Much of the report focuses on a handful of local races that were alleged to have been subject to Chinese meddling.

That includes a nomination race in Toronto where China may have orchestrated students being bussed in to cast votes for a preferred Liberal candidate, and an election race in a Vancouver suburb where misinformation was circulated about a Conservative candidate in Chinese-language media and social media.

“I cannot exclude the possibility that the outcome in some individual ridings could have been affected by foreign interference,” Hogue said. “However, in my view, the number of ridings at issue is relatively small, and the ultimate effects of foreign interference remain uncertain.”

She also said the foreign meddling, once it became public, likely undermined the Canadians’ trust in the election system. “This is perhaps the greatest harm Canada has suffered as a result of foreign interference,” she said.

Hogue said diaspora communities are particularly affected by foreign interference, sometimes with the effect of disenfranchising them from the political process.

The inquiry now enters a second phase that will examine how to inform the public about the danger of foreign interference “without unnecessarily eroding public confidence in a system that remains fundamentally sound.” A final report is due Dec. 31.

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