The former mayor of a northern municipality says she was offered free trips to China during her mandate, and while she turned them down, she knows of others who didn’t.
“I was aware of the perception of the problem of currying influence and favour, I think they sometimes call it ‘political capture.’ I did not think that was a good idea,” Madeleine Redfern told The Epoch Times in an interview.
Redfern is the former mayor of Iqaluit, Nunavut, and now a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and co-chair of think tank Arctic360.
She testified before the House of Commons ethics committee on June 2 and spoke of her experience of dealing with Chinese entities while in office.
“I’m concerned about their independence and the implications of foreign investment, especially in critical infrastructure and critical mines.”
Redfern says she saw many people from her region go to China in the hopes of making business deals related to the selling of seal-derived products, but she steered clear out of different concerns.
Along with possible attempts to influence her politically, Redfern raised concerns pertaining to the economy and security in the North. She says she was wary of China’s “polar Silk Road,” and how the regime has been funding infrastructure projects in the developing world, which it then uses to advance its strategic interests.
“Being economically vulnerable could ... put us in a situation of vulnerability with respect to our security,” says Redfern, adding that Beijing potentially saw her as a soft target and someone with relatively good access to different levels of government.
Northern VisitsRedfern was mayor of Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, a vast region that stretches across most of the Canadian Arctic, from 2015 to 2019. She doesn’t recall precisely when she was offered free trips to China or who exactly made the in-person invitation, but it didn’t come from a Chinese official; rather, it came from someone acting on Beijing’s behalf.
Various Chinese officials would also come on their own to the North, she said, noting China’s interest in seal products, as well as fish and shrimp from the region.
Redfern also says that bad government policy has led to Chinese equipment ending up in the North’s telecommunications system.
“Yes, the Government of Canada has banned Huawei with respect to only 5G technology, nothing else,” she says.
With the infrastructure deficit in the North, Redfern is calling on Bay Street bankers and Canadian pension funds to invest in northern projects and communities instead of in China.
Mutual InterestCurrent interest in Canada’s northern communities by Chinese entities is difficult to gauge. The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) declined to comment on the issue of Chinese attempts to make inroads with First Nations.
The current mayor of Iqaluit, Solomon Awa, told The Epoch Times through a spokesperson he was never offered any free trip to China. Nor was his predecessor Kenny Bell.
Former Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) executive Dan Stanton says that Beijing’s attempts to create links with indigenous peoples is “rather dated.”
The opposite was taking place as early as six years ago, with one First Nations organization in British Columbia seeking to strengthen links with China.
The British Columbia First Nations Energy and Mining Council (FNEMC) launched its “China Strategy” in 2011, seeking to gain from Chinese investments in natural resources.
The organization says the reason that the First Nations of British Colombia and China can enjoy good relations is based on the “history of marginalization” of indigenous people and Chinese immigrants.
The Epoch Times asked FNEMC whether it is still pursuing its China strategy in the current context but didn’t hear back by publication time.
Common PhenomenonThe issue of Beijing offering free trips to China is not novel, but specific cases are rarely discussed.
Redfern says in her role as mayor, she had the opportunity to network with other mayors from across the country through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and she says some of them went on China trips.
“It definitely felt like as if it was a combination between ... targeted individuals of potential interest to a bit of a scattershot,” she says.
The Epoch Times asked the federation to comment on the matter but didn’t receive a response by press time.
The trips had been organized by billionaire real estate investor and former Chinese military officer Li Zhe, who is reportedly tied to the United Front Work Department.
Global said its investigation raised questions “about whether the Canadian mayors were unwittingly drawn into an influence campaign aimed at improving perceptions of China and reducing criticism of human rights abuses.”