Candidates Standing Up for Rights in China Targeted During Election Campaign

Poll shows Canadians 10 times more likely to vote for a party that has a strong stance on China
By Omid Ghoreishi
Omid Ghoreishi
Omid Ghoreishi
Omid Ghoreishi is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.
September 15, 2021 Updated: September 16, 2021

Election candidates who have taken positions against the Chinese regime’s human rights infractions and interference operations are finding themselves targets of efforts to rob them of votes, such as smear campaigns, candidates and activists say.

Conservative candidate Kenny Chiu, who is seeking re-election in the B.C. riding of Steveston–Richmond East, says he has been a target of misinformation against him in previous election campaigns, but this year “it has been exceptional.”

Epoch Times Photo

A man enters an advance polling station in Ottawa on Sept. 10, 2021, ahead of the federal election on Sept. 20. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

“It’s nothing compared to what I’ve seen—it’s multi-dimensional,” Chiu told The Epoch Times, referring to social media posts, radio commentaries, and online articles in pro-Beijing media that portray him negatively.

Gloria Fung, president of Canada-Hong Kong Link, says there’s a “well-orchestrated” campaign to “smear and slander” candidates who are vocal about the human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“This kind of direct interference is very, very obvious and has become more and more aggressive,” Fung said in an interview.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service said in a report in July that it has seen persistent and advanced state-sponsored activity targeting elections in Canada for many years and “continues to see a rise in its frequency and sophistication.” In a rare public address in February, CSIS head David Vigneault singled out China and Russia as hostile foreign governments engaged in activities that directly target Canada’s national security.

A poll by Nanos released in September ahead of the Sept. 20 federal election shows that 63 percent of Canadians want the government to be “more forceful” in its relations with China. It adds that Canadians are “10 times more likely than less likely to vote for a federal party if it had a stronger stance against China (45 percent more likely, 4 percent less likely).”

O’Toole Targeted

The online articles and posts aren’t only directed at candidates. Chinese state-owned media have also published hostile reports against the Conservative Party and leader Erin O’Toole, who has taken a strong position against the CCP.

The Conservative Party’s platform features a detailed plan on dealing with the Chinese regime, including fighting foreign interference and upholding human rights in China. The platform makes a point of saying that the plan is directed at the Chinese communist regime and that the Conservatives support the people of China.

In a Twitter post sharing an editorial on the Conservatives, Chinese state-owned Global Times denounced the party‘s platform as catering to Canada’s “toxic anti-China atmosphere” and said that it shows them “at wit’s end.”

Epoch Times Photo
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole speaks to the media in Quebec City on Aug. 18, 2021. (The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz)

Richard Lee, a spokesperson of the Toronto-based Chinese community organization Canadian Platform in Advocacy for Community Awareness (CPACA), says the CCP is concerned about a possible Conservative government.

“The CCP is attacking O’Toole because of his policies on the CCP,” he said through a translator.

Misinformation Campaign

As an MP, Chiu introduced Bill C-282, a private member’s bill that seeks to compel those working on behalf of foreign entities to register as foreign agents in order to increase transparency.

The United States and Australia already have similar legislation. Shortly before Australia’s version of the legislation came into effect in 2017, two former cabinet ministers and a former premier resigned their posts with organizations that have strong links to the CCP.

The poll by Nanos shows that “a strong majority of Canadians” strongly support (68 percent) or support (20 percent) the establishment of a foreign agent registration act.

Chiu says that his bill was meant to combat foreign interference but that it is being “deliberately” misrepresented to mislead those in the Chinese community to believe it’s against their interests.

“All it takes is for someone to read the bill that I tabled, and they would realize what it’s about. But it’s being twisted,” he said.

One such Chinese article seen by The Epoch Times contains a headline saying the bill is meant to “suppress the Chinese community.” Referring to Chiu’s supportive vote in Parliament to recognize China’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims as genocide and his demand for Magnitsky sanctions on officials responsible for rights violations in Hong Kong, the article goes on to say that Chiu “voted to support the Xinjiang Uyghur bill condemning China and demanded sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong government officials.”

The article urges more people to share the post if they care about the “well-being of the Chinese community.”

Epoch Times Photo
Police arrest protesters taking part in a pro-democracy demonstration in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020.  (Bilong Song/The Epoch Times)

Chiu says the misinformation campaign against him is having an impact, noting that some people who used to volunteer for his campaign in previous elections haven’t joined this year and instead are supporting his Liberal opponent, Parm Bains.

The Epoch Times approached Bains’s campaign for comments but didn’t hear back.

Chiu also says some of his supporters feel restricted in defending him online against the smear campaign because they have family ties in China and are concerned about their safety.

“What I want is just for the information being circulated to be true,” he said. “It’s costing me a lot of distraction, and it’s sidetracking my attention. I would have hoped that people could judge me on policy and what I’ve done as a member of Parliament.”

Chiu says he doesn’t know who is behind the misinformation campaign against him but says it should be investigated.

“The attacks give the impression that they are co-ordinated, and the timing is just working perfectly,” he said.

Chiu, who was among the MPs sanctioned by the CCP in retaliation for Canada’s sanctions against Chinese officials involved in persecuting Uyghurs, says the CCP tries to brainwash the Chinese people to believe that “the Party, the country, and the race” are all the same thing, and “if you criticize the Party, you’re criticizing the country itself.”

He said there has also been a push in Canada to portray anyone who criticizes the CCP as fanning the flames of hate against Asians.

“I can’t disagree with that more,” said Chiu, who immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong in 1989.

“The more people of colour, Canadians from Chinese heritage, speak up against racism and speak up against the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in Canada, the mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners, genocidal actions against Uyghurs and Turkic Muslims, … the more the Canadian public will realize that the Chinese communities stand behind these Canadian core values.”

‘Issues of the Chinese Nationals’

Canada-Hong Kong Link’s Fung says the federal government as well as Elections Canada need to be cognizant of such smear campaigns during elections.

She adds that besides Chiu, there are other Canadian politicians who have been targeted for their stance on the CCP, including NDP candidate Jenny Kwan, who has been outspoken in calling for democracy in Hong Kong.

“There has been a very well-orchestrated social media campaign to smear and slander candidates who are vocal [against CCP’s rights violations],” Fung said.

Kwan is seeking re-election in Vancouver East.

Epoch Times Photo
NDP MP Jenny Kwan asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 25, 2018. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

A statement provided to The Epoch Times by her campaign office states that Kwan’s campaign manager, Gabriel Yiu, objects to Fred Kwok, an organizer in Vancouver’s Chinese community, having hosted a free lunch “promoting the Liberal candidate for Vancouver East,” saying that it undermined “the integrity of the election process.”

The Epoch Times reached out to the Liberal campaign for comment but didn’t receive a response.

Kwok paid $1,500 for the Aug. 29 lunch, which, on top of previous political donations he had made, caused him to exceed Elections Canada’s $1,650 limit. In an interview, he said he was ignorant of the rules and is now pursuing registration as a “third party,” defined by Elections Canada as a person or group wanting to “participate in or influence elections.”

In an invitation to the Aug. 29 event on Chinese social media platform WeChat seen by The Epoch Times, Kwok says everyone is invited to the free lunch and that if the Liberal candidate, Josh Vander Vies, wins, “it would mean that at least some more MPs are paying attention to issues of the Chinese nationals.”

The statement from Kwan’s campaign says that her campaign manager is unsure what Kwok means when referring to “issues of the Chinese nationals,” and whether he is making references to “Kwan’s stance on China’s human right abuses and suppression of freedom.” The statement adds that Kwan’s position is consistent with her position on human rights, whether in Canada or elsewhere.

Kwok has been an executive with a number of Chinese organizations in Vancouver, including the Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver (CBA), which takes positions aligned with Beijing. This has included running ads in Chinese newspapers denouncing pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

He told The Epoch Times that he organized the event so that the Chinese community can bring attention to issues that concern the community such as racism, and he wanted the community to get involved in the election and know the different candidates. He added that “people take my word and spin it out of context” and rejected the claim that he was promoting the Liberal candidate.

Kwok said that he doesn’t care about what positions the candidates have when it comes to the Chinese regime and that he is mainly concerned about the local businesses in Chinatown.

When asked why his CBA organization is weighing in on the situation in Hong Kong if he is mainly preoccupied with local issues, he said, “It is what it is, and I don’t go on to keep explaining, so I just decline to answer any more questions.”

Influence Campaigns

CPACA’s Lee says it’s very clear that in recent years the CCP has significantly increased its influence operations within the Chinese community in Canada. This includes the Chinese Consulate’s control of candidates during elections and the regime’s control of overseas Chinese media, he says.

Lee says he has observed that in this campaign, candidates from the Chinese community who are known to have links to the Chinese Consulate aren’t as outspoken on their position on China as before, as the Canadian public is more vigilant given the CCP’s hostile acts against Canada, including the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. But he says behind the scenes, the candidates make their views known in platforms that are more private.

Epoch Times Photo
A man holds a sign bearing photographs of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been detained in China, in Vancouver on Jan. 21, 2020. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

“While the candidates aren’t talking about their positions and support for Beijing publicly, you can see them expressing their views on social media or other private groups where they are repeating the CCP’s talking points, such as asking for the release of [Huawei executive] Meng Wanzhou and repeating Beijing’s position on Hong Kong and Xinjiang, ” he said.

At the same time, Lee says, influence operations are on full display on social media to discourage votes for politicians and parties that go against CCP’s interests.

“They are using these social media posts to influence the Chinese community.”

With reporting by Limin Zhou

Omid Ghoreishi
Omid Ghoreishi
Omid Ghoreishi is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.