RCMP still probing alleged meddling in federal elections, but offer few details

By Jim Bronskill and Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — RCMP commissioner Mike Duheme says the police force has several open investigations into possible foreign interference in the last two general elections — probes that began only after the votes were counted.

Duheme declined to elaborate Thursday on the number or nature of the probes, citing the integrity of the investigations, privacy concerns and public safety.

“We don’t comment on ongoing investigations,” Duheme said after appearing at a federal commission of inquiry into foreign interference. 

The hearings are part of the inquiry’s examination of possible meddling by China, India, Russia and others in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

Deputy RCMP commissioner Mark Flynn provided few other details about the ongoing probes, but indicated to reporters that some of the leads emerged through individuals “speaking about their own experiences very publicly,” including in the House of Commons.

Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, Conservative MP Michael Chong and New Democrat MP Jenny Kwan have all been identified publicly as possible targets of foreign interference by China.

In a classified February interview with the inquiry, Duheme said the RCMP did not open any foreign interference-related criminal investigations during the last two general elections. 

A public summary of the interview, tabled Thursday at the inquiry, reveals that Duheme also said none of the force’s partners referred intelligence to the Mounties that would have warranted such criminal investigations.

However, after the 2021 general election, the Mounties did begin investigations, including one prompted by Chong’s public statement about being a target of meddling.

Flynn said Thursday that while the force’s investigation of that incident “has concluded, the broad understanding of the problem and our efforts to combat the broad public safety threat that this represents is ongoing.”

Added Duheme: “If there’s information that comes up that says that we should be reopening a file, we reopen it and continue the investigation.”

Canadian Security Intelligence Service director David Vigneault told the commission Thursday he chose to go public with concerns about foreign meddling in 2018. 

Since then, the agency has put resources toward meeting with “non-traditional partners,” and most importantly diaspora communities, in an effort to combat foreign interference, he said.

“They are, unfortunately, one of the most significant targets of foreign interference.”

The inquiry also heard about Vigneault’s decision to recall an October 2019 CSIS intelligence assessment about possible Chinese interference in the nomination race for the Liberal candidate in the Toronto riding of Don Valley North.

A 2023 media report, based on leaked information, alleged that Beijing meddled with the nomination of Han Dong as the Liberal nominee.

A newly released summary of a classified interview the inquiry held with Vigneault says the 2019 assessment was disseminated to senior government officials, including the national security adviser. A subsequent CSIS email said Vigneault asked for the document to be recalled further to a discussion with the security adviser.

The summary adds that Vigneault had no recollection of why the assessment was recalled, but he was confident the only reason would be because “there was an issue with it,” not because it was too sensitive.

In the classified interview, Vigneault was asked whether the assessment was raised again, following the media leaks, in his briefing of the prime minister and senior members of his staff.

“Mr. Vigneault explained that the discussion was not about this assessment,” the public summary says. “The discussion was broader and covered the recent media leaks, and included some of the information in the assessment as well as new information.”

A former deputy minister of foreign affairs told the inquiry in a classified interview that Canada’s security and intelligence community has been closely monitoring attempted meddling by China. 

But Marta Morgan said such activity did not reach the threshold for taking diplomatic measures against Chinese officials in relation to the 2019 and 2021 general elections. 

Morgan, who was deputy minister from May 2019 until October 2022, made the comments in a February interview with the inquiry, according to a public summary. 

The summary says during the electoral writ periods, Global Affairs Canada did not consider diplomatic measures against China, as none of the intelligence triggered specific concerns. 

Individual political candidates have told the inquiry they were angry to learn only after both election campaigns that officials had been monitoring activity suspected of being linked to foreign states. 

Intelligence leaders insist both the 2019 and 2021 elections were conducted freely and fairly, but the Conservatives say more attention should have been paid to concerning activity detected within specific ridings.

The Communications Security Establishment, which monitors foreign signals intelligence, was alert to potential threats during both of the last two elections, said Dan Rogers, a former senior official with the agency.

The most significant piece of intelligence gathered during that period emerged after the 2021 election and involved allegations about the potential distribution of funds, he testified Thursday.

Rogers declined to share any details because of national security concerns. The information was passed on to CSIS and the RCMP, but he said he doesn’t know what became of it after that.

A summary of another intelligence assessment presented to the inquiry Thursday says “threat actors” received financial support from China in late 2018 and early 2019 in a possible interference attempt. 

The document suggests there were likely “at least two transfers of funds approximating $250,000” from Beijing officials in Canada. 

The funds were reportedly transferred through an influential community leader and other individuals to a staff member of a 2019 federal election candidate and then to a member of the Ontario legislature. 

Vigneault told the inquiry the summary of the intelligence was carefully worded for public distribution, and cautioned people to read the words “in their context and not over-interpret, or not draw conclusions that are not drawn here.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2024. 

Jim Bronskill and Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version erroneously identified Dan Rogers, currently deputy national security and intelligence adviser to the prime minister, as the deputy head of the Communications Security Establishment.

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