Canada must be prepared to expel any Chinese diplomats that are found to be involved in interference or harassment activities on Canadian soil, says a former Canadian ambassador to China.
Testifying before the Commons procedure and House affairs committee (PROC) on Jan. 7, David Mulroney said China’s plan for Canada is to transform it into a “compliant” country that “perpetually looks over its shoulder to be sure that what it says and does meet Beijing’s approval and looks the other way when Beijing’s extraterritorial reach extends into our communities..”
Mulroney, who served as Canada’s envoy to China from 2009 to 2012, told committee members that China is “the primary threat” when it comes to foreign interference in Canada, and the longer Ottawa takes to address these issues, the more difficult the task becomes.
“We must be prepared to expel Chinese diplomats involved in interference or harassment,” he said. “Our failure to do so only encourages increasingly brazen meddling.”
“This will trigger retaliation, but we must make it clear that expulsion is the inevitable consequence of such hostile behaviour,” he added.
Mulroney urged that the federal government launch a foreign agent registry that will require people to publicly report when they are doing paid work on behalf of another state, under threat of fines or jail time.
“We need to hold current and former elected officials and public servants to higher standards of transparency, accountability, and loyalty,” he stressed to PROC, which is currently studying how foreign state actors interfered with the federal election in 2019 and 2021.
On Dec. 2, 2022, the Liberal government acknowledged outside interference from foreign governments and organizations that routinely try to meddle in Canadian affairs.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said at the time that the government would launch consultations to hear from the public on whether it should follow the lead of key allies including the United States and Australia in establishing a foreign agent registry.
The announcement came nearly a month after the Global News reported on Nov. 7, 2022, that intelligence officials had warned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several cabinet members that Beijing had been allegedly targeting Canada with an extensive campaign of foreign interference, including during the federal election in 2019.
The report also alleged that at least 11 federal candidates, whose party affiliations weren’t revealed, received funding from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during that election.
Trudeau responded shortly that day, saying his government had taken “significant measures” to strengthen Canada’s election process and systems, and would “continue to invest in the fight” against election interference and foreign interference.
A week later on Nov. 15, 2022, Trudeau’s office said the prime minister spoke with Chinese Leader Xi Jinping at the G-20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, regarding allegations of interference and media reports of de facto police stations operating in Canada. He was confronted by Xi the next day who said it was “not appropriate” to share their conversations with the media.
‘Haven’t Seen the Actions’
Mulroney agreed that Trudeau is not currently doing enough to counter foreign interference when asked by Conservative MP Luc Berthold if he thinks so.
“Yes, I think his China policy took a long time in getting on the right track,” Mulroney said. “But I haven’t seen the actions to follow up on that new understanding—that new awareness of China.”
On Feb. 6, Mendicino said Canada should be “thoughtful and inclusive” when it comes to creating a foreign agent registry. He said such a database must be carefully considered, as it could stigmatize communities who have felt targeted by security agencies in the past.
Mulroney said one tactic the CCP uses against those who speak against it is to accuse them of fanning anti-Chinese sentiment.
“This is furthered by propagation of the falsehood that simply speaking up about PRC [People’s Republic of China] interference is itself racist, anti-Chinese,” he said.
‘Get Away With It’
Charles Burton, a China expert and senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute who also testified at the committee, said he “heartily endorse[s] everything” Mulroney had said.
“After what has happened in the previous elections, no Chinese diplomats have been declared persona non grata, and no agents of the Chinese regime have been brought before a Canadian court to be accountable for alleged criminal activity, … this emboldened the Chinese regime to do much more of it in the next election,” Burton said.
“In other words, the longer we remain passive and ineffective, the more encouraged they’ll be that they can do more of this and get away with it.”
Burton, also a former diplomat posted in China, added that Canada is a laggard in providing information on attempted interference, and in probing disinformation that appears on social media in languages like Chinese.
“We don’t have the capability within the Canadian system to deal with activities in the diaspora community that could affect election results improperly,” he testified.
Mulroney said Canada should design its defence against “proxies” favoured by the CCP. “Here in Canada, Beijing recruits proxies to parrot its talking points, expand its influence in media, on college campuses, and in government, and to launder its illicit financial contributions,” he said.
He recommended that police need to be more present in the diaspora communities that are informed of the CCP’s interference.
“The defining characteristic of a truly sovereign nation is the ability to shield its citizens and its institutions from foreign interference,” he said.
Andrew Chen, Peter Wilson, and The Canadian Press contributed to this report.