Vincent Rigby, who served as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security adviser from 2020-2021, says he never saw a CSIS report that suggested China was targeting the family of a Canadian MP.
In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live that aired Sunday, Rigby said he had not seen the report by the time of his departure in June 2021.
“I retired June 30, and I would not have seen documents that were produced or distributed after that date, so no, I did not see that document and I was not aware of it,” Rigby told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.
First reported by the Globe and Mail, subsequent disclosures have revealed that China apparently targeted the family of Conservative MP Michael Chong — now serving as the party’s foreign affairs critic — in Hong Kong in retaliation for his sponsorship of a motion condemning China’s treatment of the Uyghur minority as genocide.
Chong revealed that he had heard from the current national security adviser, Jody Thomas, that the report had been sent to one of her predecessors.
Earlier this week, the government expelled the Chinese diplomat allegedly involved in the intimidation scheme, and China responded with its own expulsion of Canada’s envoy in Shanghai. Chong said the expulsion was years late.
“The fact is, we’ve become somewhat of a playground for foreign interference threat activities,” Chong said Monday.
In his brief answers, Rigby said that he would likely soon be appearing before a parliamentary committee studying the foreign interference issue and he would discuss the issue in more depth then.
But he did take a stand against ongoing leaks from intelligence and national security sources to the media, saying he didn’t agree with the framing of those sources as whistleblowers.
“They’re not exposing any wrongful activity, in the classic sense of the term. What they’re doing is undermining Canada’s national security, in my view,” Rigby said.
“I’m really happy we’re finally having a debate about national security in this country … this is not the way to do it, by leaking documents publicly like this, this is not something I condone,” he added.
More MPs contacted
As first reported by the Toronto Star on Friday, this country’s spy agency is now offering additional briefings to other MPs, including former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and the NDP’s Jenny Kwan.
Under harsh criticism from the opposition that his government has not responded quickly and effectively to the threat of foreign interference, Trudeau has in recent weeks publicly rebuked CSIS for not sharing more information about potential threats to legislators.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has also called out the agency.
“What I would say is that it’s a serious problem that in July 2021 that neither the prime minister or the public safety minister at the time were briefed directly by CSIS,” Mendicino said earlier this month.
In a separate interview airing Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live, Mendicino said the government was focused on protecting parliamentarians and Canadians from foreign interference.
“It is important that we revisit protocols so that information is put directly before me when it comes to foreign interference in parliamentarians, information is put directly before the prime minister when it comes to the same threat,” he said.
Mendicino said Sunday that the government is still working on its proposal for a foreign agent registry, part of its response to the foreign interference controversy.
He said the government is looking at models like the lobbyist registry, which is searchable by the public, but that consultations are ongoing.
“I would just point out that it’s not a panacea,” Mendicino said. “We also have to make sure we’re putting in place other measures and authorities, but also being transparent and upfront with Canadians about how we’re protecting all of our institutions, including our democracy, from foreign interference.”