Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole says Canada’s spy agency told him he has been an ongoing target of a Chinese government campaign of misinformation and “voter suppression” that covered the last federal election campaign.
Rising on a question of privilege in the House of Commons on Tuesday, O’Toole said he received a briefing from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) on Friday.
The Ontario MP said he was informed that Beijing has been targeting him for “years.”
“The CSIS briefing confirmed to me what I suspected for quite some time. That my parliamentary caucus and myself were the target of a sophisticated misinformation and voter suppression campaign orchestrated by the People’s Republic of China,” O’Toole told the House.
O’Toole said Beijing’s campaign spread misinformation and used social media — specifically the Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat — to amplify that misinformation.
The former Conservative leader criticized the government for not alerting him or his party to these issues at the time, something he called a violation of his parliamentary privilege.
“They are being willfully blind to attacks on our Parliamentary democracy,” O’Toole said.
O’Toole also criticized the federal task force struck to help safeguard the integrity of the 2021 election. A report reviewing that task force’s work was released in February.
While the report said interference didn’t affect the outcome of the 2021 vote, it did recommend that the government lower the threshold for when the task force can alert the public to potential interference attempts.
O’Toole — who is leaving federal politics once the House rises next month — said he likely will remain a target of Beijing once he steps down.
On Monday, NDP MP Jenny Kwan said she received a similar briefing from CSIS last week.
Kwan told reporters Monday that CSIS said she is an “evergreen” target for Beijing. Both O’Toole and Kwan said China’s government is singling them out over their vocal support for democracy in Hong Kong and for religious and cultural minorities in China.
“I will continue this fight, to bring this message to the House of Commons,” Kwan said Monday.
House debating motion calling on Johnston to resign
David Johnston, the federal government’s special rapporteur on foreign interference, said in his recent interim report that intelligence indicates Beijing was seeking information about Conservative MP Michael Chong and his relatives.
Government House leader Mark Holland said Tuesday the federal Liberals still have faith in Johnston’s ability to investigate foreign interference in Canadian elections.
But Holland would not confirm whether the government could fire Johnston if an NDP motion calling for his ouster passes in the House of Commons this week.
The House debated a motion tabled by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on Tuesday that calls on the government to remove Johnston as special rapporteur and to call a public inquiry.
Singh said he doesn’t want to attack Johnston personally but worries that his personal ties to the prime minister undermine his work as special rapporteur.
Opposition party motions are not binding and the government already ignored an earlier NDP motion calling for a public inquiry that passed in March.
That motion came just a week after the Liberals appointed Johnston to look into claims the Chinese government attempted to interfere in the last two federal elections.
Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre repeated his calls for a public inquiry Tuesday and discounted Johnston’s role as a “fake job.”
“We need to take back control of our democracy from foreign forces. We need to put Canadians back in control of their lives,” he said.
Poilievre, who succeeded O’Toole as permanent party leader after the last election, said he would call a public inquiry if he becomes prime minister.
Trudeau has offered top security clearances to party leaders to allow them to review the intelligence that informed Johnston’s report.
Poilievre, who has questioned Johnston’s impartiality by calling him a “ski buddy” and “cottage neighbour” of the Trudeau family, has refused the offer. Poilievre has said he does not want to be “silenced” by having to restrict the information he can share publicly.
“The prime minister’s plan is he wants to mark secret things that would otherwise be publicly debatable, but put things that would be in a grey area under the secrecy of the state, and then put them before me to prevent me from speaking publicly,” Poilievre said.
Singh said he will continue to push for a public inquiry but won’t end his confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberal minority government and trigger an election.
“I don’t see how it’s logical, if the goal is to protect our democracy, to then trigger an election when we’re worried about foreign interference,” he said.