Blue Line

RCMP confirms probe into Chong threats as ex adviser to PM offers new details on memo

June 13, 2023  By The Canadian Press

June 13, 2023, Ottawa, Ont. – RCMP commissioner Mike Duheme confirmed Tuesday that police have opened a criminal investigation into allegations that Conservative MP Michael Chong was targeted by Beijing.

He said the RCMP is also working with elections officials to probe alleged foreign interference against two other members of Parliament – Conservative MP Erin O’Toole and NDP MP Jenny Kwan – but wouldn’t confirm whether police are pursuing criminal charges in either case.

“Any matters that can be charged, any person that can be charged with the Criminal Code, we will do so,” he told reporters after having appeared before a House of Commons committee studying foreign interference.

Duheme said more than 100 investigations into foreign interference writ large are underway in Canada, adding that police stations allegedly operated by Beijing have been closed amid ongoing investigations.

“We are trying to build the relationship with the communities to have the people come forward and tell us their story, so we can have more evidence to lay appropriate charges,” he told reporters.

He said the national police agency first learned about allegations regarding foreign meddling in the affairs of MPs in the media.

“We have learned about specific individuals that were targeted through the public disclosure, not through other means, but through the public disclosure of specific individuals that have been targeted,” he told MPs during his testimony at committee.

“It is those matters that we reached out to the commissioner of Canada elections to offer our assistance if required.”

Duheme told the committee he had not seen a Canadian Security Intelligence Service memo warning about Beijing’s alleged targeting of parliamentarians.

“I’m not saying that we didn’t get it, but I don’t recall reading the memo,” he later told reporters, adding that such information would only have been shared with the RCMP if it met a criminal threshold.

Former public safety minister Bill Blair, who is now the minister of emergency preparedness, blamed CSIS earlier this month that he did not receive classified information about threats to MPs.

“The director determined this was not information the minister needed to know,” Blair said.

CSIS director David Vigneault disputed that when he was before the committee later Tuesday evening.

Vigneault was asked about Blair’s comments and he told the committee there are several ways for CSIS to get information to the government.

In one instance, intelligence reports are shared with the department “to be curated for the minister,” he said, and it is up to the department to decide what the minister has access to.

But if CSIS wants to bring attention to something more specifically, it will write an issue management note.

“I think the fact that we did an issue management note speaks to the notion that we wanted to highlight that information,” Vigneault said.

He also added: “It’s clear that Minister Blair in his testimony has mentioned that he has not seen that note and I have no reason to doubt that.”

The first report from special rapporteur David Johnston, who resigned that position last Friday citing a heavily politicized atmosphere around his work, had said that the information never made it to the political level.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s current national security adviser, Jody Thomas, said the memo was provided to her interim predecessor David Morrison in August 2021.

During his own committee appearance Tuesday morning, Morrison, who is now the deputy minister of foreign affairs, said he received the nine-page memo on Aug. 17, two days after the 2021 election was called. He said it was in a reading package prepared for him by the Privy Council Office.

Morrison said he was preoccupied at the time with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the effort to evacuate Canadians, and Afghans who had helped Canadians, out of the beleaguered country.

Morrison said he has “no recollection of receiving it or reading it” at the time. But he knows that he did read it because he did order a follow-up report, which was ready in January 2022 after he had already left the role of national security adviser.

He said he understood the document he received was not intended to “spur action” on his part because it was more of a “report for awareness,” and he assumed any relevant actions had already been taken.

“It was certainly not something that I would have rushed to brief up the prime minister on,” he said.

The Canadian Press asked Morrison via email earlier this month whether he had been provided the July 20, 2021, memo from CSIS. A statement from the Department of Global Affairs said Morrison did not “recall having received any written material regarding threats to MPs during his time as (national security adviser). He also does not recall any oral briefings or discussions on the issue.”

Johnston, whose report found serious issues with the way the government handles confidential information, had concluded that there were no indications the prime minister was made aware of China’s alleged efforts with respect to Chong or other MPs.

The Liberal government recently issued a directive that any threats against members of Parliament, their families or their staff must be elevated to the highest political levels, even if CSIS does not deem the threat to be serious or legitimate.

Vigneault said Tuesday that the ability to brief MPs is limited by the CSIS Act itself, and he recommended that Parliament update and modernize the act. He said that was highlighted in Chong’s case.

He said the agency has already briefed one person under this direction and is preparing “a couple of others,” though he did not provide details.

Ottawa had expelled Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei in May, accusing him of being involved in a plot to intimidate Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong.

In response, China’s embassy expelled Canada’s consul in Shanghai and issued a statement accusing Canada of breaching international law and acting based on anti-Chinese sentiment.

Chong’s alleged targeting in 2021 had come after he successfully sponsored a motion in the House of Commons labelling Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China a genocide.

Chong told MPs during his own committee appearance that the failure to notify him of potential threats constituted a “systematic breakdown in the machinery of government.”

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