A senior official who received a memo on Chinese regime threats to MPs told a committee that the transmission of information had functioned as expected and that the report did not warrant being shared immediately with the prime minister.
“I would submit that the system did function according to the protocols that were in place back in 2021,” said Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs David Morrison as he testified before the House of Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) on June 13.
Morrison was Trudeau’s acting National Security and Intelligence Advisor (NSIA) when the office received an assessment from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in the summer of 2021.
The assessment of Chinese interference reportedly contained information about Beijing seeking to target unspecified MPs for their stance on human rights in China. The information was never briefed to any minister, as revealed in recent weeks, and only came to light after The Globe and Mail broke the story on May 1.
Morrison told the committee that the CSIS document was in his reading package on August 17, 2021, but he had “no recollection of receiving it or reading it then.” He mentioned that Kabul had fallen to the Taliban on August 15 and his focus was on that issue.
Once the “dust from Afghanistan settled,” Morrison said he did read the CSIS assessment but decided not to raise it with the prime minister, saying it was “never intended to spur action by readers.”
“It was not a memorandum for action, it was a report for awareness,” he said.
Conservative MP Michael Cooper said he was “absolutely astounded” by Morrison’s testimony and his “singular refusal to accept responsibility” given his role to brief Trudeau on national security matters.
Tory MP John Nater pointed to the fact that Morrison was given the CSIS assessment two days after the government was dissolved and an election called by Trudeau. As NSIA, Morrison was assigned to sit on the election integrity panel.
“You, as National Security and Intelligence Advisor, you, as a member of the panel of five, didn’t twig to the fact that this could be an issue in a campaign that had just been called two days prior?” asked Nater.
Follow-up AssessmentDespite Morrison having judged that the information wasn’t significant enough to brief the prime minister, he said he found it interesting enough to commission a follow-up assessment by analysts within the Privy Council Office (PCO).
“A large clandestine transfer of funds earmarked for the federal election from the PRC Consulate in Toronto was transferred to an elected provincial government official via a staff member of a 2019 federal candidate,” it reported.
Morrison told the committee he didn’t know if the PCO memo had been briefed to the prime minister, having left his position in early January before it was finalized.
Morrison also said anyone reading the CSIS assessment “could have safely assumed that any necessary action on any of the specific points raised had already been taken.”
He pointed to an issues management note that CSIS sent to the minister of public safety in May 2021 on the same matter which mentioned specifically the MPs being targeted, including Conservative MP Michael Chong.
The note said that Chong would be provided a defensive briefing, which is unclassified in nature, and didn’t go into the specifics of the threat. That briefing was provided in June 2021.
But as other committee testimonies have demonstrated, the CSIS note never made it to then-public safety minister Bill Blair.
CSIS RoleWith respect to Morrison’s assertion that the CSIS assessment did not call for action from the readers, CSIS products typically never do. The role of CSIS is to provide intelligence to the government, which it then uses to make policy or take action.
“Irregularities were observed with Mr. Dong’s nomination in 2019, and there is well-grounded suspicion that the irregularities were tied to the PRC Consulate in Toronto, with whom Mr. Dong maintains relationships,” wrote Johnston.
Johnston added that Trudeau had been briefed, but no recommendation had been provided, saying, “He concluded there was no basis to displace Mr. Dong as the candidate for Don Valley North. This was not an unreasonable conclusion based on the intelligence available to the Prime Minister at the time.”