Canadian Parliamentary Report Describes Chinese Interference

On Thursday, Canada’s National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians published a heavily redacted version of its annual report, originally submitted to the government last August. The document consists of three reviews, into "diversity and inclusion in Canada’s security and intelligence community; the government response to foreign interference; and, the national security and intelligence activities of the Canada Border Services Agency." The second of these identifies China and Russia as the two most active perpetrators of foreign interference in Canada, including "using deceptive means to ‘cultivate relationships with elected officials and others perceived to possess influence in the political process; seek to influence the reporting of Canadian media outlets; seek, in some cases, to affect the outcome of elections; and coerce or induce diaspora communities to advance foreign interests in Canada.’"

The review focuses on "traditional" person-to-person activities, rather than cybersecurity, and also excludes "specific interference activities directed at the 2019 federal election [and] the national security implications of foreign acquisitions of Canadian businesses." It notes that in Canada, compared to other countries including the United States and Australia, such activity "has received minimal media and academic coverage, and is not part of wider public discourse," fostering "the assumption that foreign interference is not a significant problem in Canada." The assumption, it argues, is mistaken, and "foreign interference represents a significant threat to Canada’s society and fundamental institutions."

Chapter 2 presents the Committee’s review of the government’s response to foreign interference. This review demonstrates that some states pose a risk to Canadian institutions and Canadian rights, freedoms and values. The chapter’s first section explains the breadth and scope of the threat of foreign interference. It outlines the primary threat actors and examines the threat that those actors pose to Canada’s fundamental institutions and ethno-cultural communities. The second describes government efforts to respond to the threat. This review is important because of the potential adverse effects of foreign interference on Canadian democratic institutions and on the rights and freedoms of Canadians. [Source]

These "ethno-cultural communities" are a key focus of the report. The text notes that "the PRC’s legislative framework directs all Chinese entities and individuals to contribute to state security," describing this as an "all-encompassing strategy […] rooted in China’s fundamental approach to statecraft and international relations." However, it also stresses that Chinese-Canadians and Chinese in Canada are often victims rather than instruments of this approach. (Triple asterisks indicate redactions, some of which are further annotated.)

Canada is a multicultural society, home to large ethnocultural communities. For example, there are approximately 1.8 million Canadians of Chinese background and 1.2 million Canadians of Indian background in Canada, 1 in 5 Canadians were born abroad, and over 22 percent of Canadians identify heir mother tongue as a language other than English, French or Indigenous languages. ethnocultural communities are vulnerable to foreign interference either as targets or as a means of undermining Canadian values and freedoms, and threatening the personal liberties of Canadians and landed immigrants.

A great deal of foreign interference has the goal of creating a single narrative or consistent message that helps to ensure the survival and prosperity of the foreign state. As CSIS [the Canadian Security Intelligence Service] notes, *** However, ethnocultural communities are not homogeneous and individuals or groups may not want to get involved or do not support the foreign state’s goals. Therefore, foreign states utilize a range of tactics to enforce a single narrative. Those tactics *** include:

  • threats;
  • harassment;
  • detention of family members abroad;
  • and refusal to issue travel documents or visas.

Many ethnocultural community members are also monitored for what the foreign state considers to be dissident views or activities. For example,[*** This paragraph was revised to remove injurious or privileged information. The paragraph describes the foreign interference activities of a specific country in Canada and their implications for a specific ethnocultural group. ***] [Source]

Two more paragraphs and eight bullet points are them omitted on similar grounds.

GAC [Global Affairs Canada, also known as the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development] has noted [*** that a specific state***] is increasingly monitoring and harassing human rights defenders in Canada and interfering with freedom of assembly and media. These activities have "a chilling effect on human rights activism and freedom of expression." *** [Source]

Manipulation of mainstream and Chinese-language media was another focus:

Foreign interference in the media can take a variety of forms, from distorting messages and encouraging self-censorship to hostile takeovers and foreign control of media outlets. Foreign states use ethnic and mainstream media to spread messages and forward their own agendas. *** The PRC and the Russian Federation both manipulate mainstream and ethnic media.

Traditionally, the PRC took a defensive approach to the media, through domestic censorship and by expelling critical foreign journalists. More recently, the PRC has added a more assertive approach by "trying to reshape the global information environment with massive infusions of money – funding paid- for advertorials, sponsored journalistic coverage and heavily massaged positive messages from boosters. While within China the press is increasingly tightly controlled, abroad Beijing has sought to exploit the vulnerabilities of the free press to its advantage."

[…] Currently, there are approximately 650 publications and 120 radio and television programs in 75 Canada that are in languages other than French and English. Some of these are heavily influenced and manipulated, either wittingly or unwittingly, by foreign states.

[…] The PRC has several state-owned media outlets that operate in Canada including Xinhua News, People’s Daily and the China News Service. *** The PRC is seeking to "harmonize" international Chinese-language media with its own by attempting to merge the editorial boards of those outlets with PRC media. This would result in the PRC controlling the message in Chinese-language media, thereby undermining the free and independent media in Canada. [Source]

The U.S. recently took a series of steps against Chinese state media on its soil, first designating them as "foreign missions" and thereby imposing new information disclosure requirements, and then by capping the number of visas to be issued to their staff in response to China’s subsequent expulsion of three Wall Street Journal reporters.

The section also highlights Chinese state media’s use of paid inserts in several prominent English-language newspapers, referring to The Telegraph’s reported receipt of £750,000 per year for such a placement.

The report then turns to interference in the educational sphere, noting that "CSIS assesses that the PRC and the Russian Federation are the primary threat actors on Canadian campuses," and highlighting the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations and Confucius Institutes that have been the objects of previous concern elsewhere:

[*** Two sentences were revised to remove injurious or privileged information. ***] Academic research indicates that one such student group is the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSAs). As CSIS noted, the CSSAs are an important support mechanism for international students studying abroad and "provide a social and professional network for students … they are not nefarious in and of themselves." However, there is growing public concern about the relationship between the associations and the PRC’s embassies and consulates as the CSSAs are "one of the main means the Chinese authorities use to guide Chinese students and scholars on short-term study abroad." In the United States, CSSAs are "mobilized to protest campus events that threatened to show China in a negative light. . .. Though ties with the Chinese government vary from chapter to chapter, there is reportedly ‘growing ideological pressure from the embassy and consulates’. Some CSSAs already mandate loyalty to the Party line." *** CSSA behaviour may also pose a threat to freedom of speech and assembly. For example, a media report discussed a Toronto-based chapter of the CSSA that immediately informed the Chinese consulate and publicly condemned a presentation at McMaster University by Rukiye Turdush, a critic of the PRC’s internment of Uyghurs.

As part of the PRC’s cultural influence efforts abroad, the Chinese government funds Confucius Institutes that "teach Chinese language and culture, including calligraphy, food and dance." For example, there are now more Confucius Institutes in Africa than the number of cultural centres of any other government except France. In Canada, these institutes are typically affiliated with postsecondary education institutes and K-12 schools. CSIS notes that New Brunswick recently shut down a Confucius Institute due to community complaints related to foreign interference. Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations for the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs recently completed a review of these institutes in a report entitled "China’s Impact on the U.S. Education System." The report noted that,

Confucius Institute funding comes with strings that can compromise academic freedom. The Chinese government approves all teachers, events, and speakers. Some U.S. schools contractually agree that both Chinese and U.S. laws will apply…. The Chinese teachers sign contracts with the Chinese government pledging they will not damage the national interests of China. Such limitations attempt to export China’s censorship of political debate and prevent discussion of potentially politically sensitive topics

Recent Canadian media reports have highlighted similar concerns, including a January 2019 article that discussed the rejection of a Confucius Institute agreement by a Toronto school board. [Source]

Separately, Canada’s National Post examined the contracts for seven of the ten remaining Confucius Intitutes in the country, finding that only one included "any protection for academic freedom," while several included non-disclosure clauses.

The NSICOP report continues with examples of similar interference in "Canada’s close allies and some like-minded states," as well as international organizations including the United Nations. It concludes:

The Committee believes there is ample evidence *** that Canada is the target of significant and sustained foreign interference activities. *** The PRC, the Russian Federation *** other states ***. The Committee believes that these states target Canada for a variety of reasons, but all seek to exploit the openness of our society and penetrate our fundamental institutions to meet their objectives. They target ethnocultural communities, seek to corrupt the political process, manipulate the media, and attempt to curate debate on postsecondary campuses. Each of these activities poses a significant risk to the rights and freedoms of Canadians and to the country’s sovereignty: they are a clear threat to the security of Canada. [Source]

The following section describes and assesses Canadian authorities’ responses to this threat, concluding that:

There is work to be done. This review shows that, for years, CSIS has investigated and reported on the threat posed by foreign interference by a number of states. It has assessed that Canada is an "attractive and permissive target." The government’s new focus is in its earliest stages and has yet to markedly change this environment. Engagement of sub-national levels of government remains cursory or limited by institutional challenges. Public engagement is almost non-existent, save for recent efforts by the Director of CSIS. Organizations within the security and intelligence community differ on how they define the problem and how they understand its gravity and prevalence. Reactions to foreign interference remain ad hoc and case-specific, rarely putting them in their broader context. The response is typically led by single organizations and the tools to counter are most often diplomatic. Understandably, this tends to result in foreign policy considerations being given greater weight than longer-term domestic risks, which are often harder to articulate as concrete harms. No organization represents the longer-term interests of Canadian sovereignty and fundamental values.

The government must do better. Canada’s long-term security depends on the integrity of its sovereignty in decision-making, strong and independent fundamental institutions, and the protection of the rights and freedoms of Canadians. The government’s approach must be based on a refined calculation of our collective interests and, most importantly, a continued emphasis on Canada’s liberal democratic values. In that context, the Committee agrees with the following sentiment:

Democratic values cannot be taken for granted. We must not become complacent in thinking that our own long-standing democracies are not susceptible to foreign interference. The openness of our societies is what make us vulnerable, but is a core component of democracy that contributes to our resilience and cannot be compromised.

The threat is real, if often hidden. If it is not addressed in a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach, foreign interference will slowly erode the foundations of our fundamental institutions, including our system of democracy itself. The Committee expects that its review and recommendations will highlight important areas within which to work. [Source]

The section includes case studies of Canadian responses, including the handling of China’s efforts to repatriate alleged suspects as part of the anti-corruption campaign that was one of Xi Jinping’s earliest signature policies. Canadian law enforcement provided some cooperation with this campaign, but the report alludes to Chinese activites beyond this. In 2015, the Obama administration rebuked Beijing over cases in which, according to The New York Times, “Chinese agents — who are not in the United States on acknowledged government business, and most likely are entering on tourist or trade visas — use various strong-arm tactics to get fugitives to return [including] threats against family members in China.”

Chinese security officials have taken a number of measures to conduct Operation Fox Hunt, including diplomatic pressure on foreign states to cooperate with their investigations and covert trips to persuade or coerce fugitives to return. They employ these measures with Canada. On a diplomatic level, Chinese police and prosecutors work with the RCMP to arrange to meet fugitives in Canada, ostensibly to gather evidence and to discuss the case against them. Chinese authorities agree to seek permission from the RCMP prior to travelling to Canada and to abide by the terms of the Protocol on Foreign Criminal Investigators in Canada, including that meetings are held in RCMP facilities and monitored by an RCMP officer. (*** The remainder of this paragraph was revised to remove injurious or privileged information. It discusses Chinese tactics. ***] ***

[…] The RCMP worked with Chinese officials to support their investigations of corrupt officials. RCMP officials obtained information to substantiate the allegations against the alleged fugitives, facilitate Chinese requests to travel to Canada to interview the individuals and, in Canada, monitor the interviews. The RCMP imposed increasingly stringent criteria on PRC investigators as time passed. [*** The remainder of this paragraph was revised to remove injurious or privileged information. It describes challenges raised by the RCMP. ***]

[…] Despite these interventions, Chinese *** activities to advance Operation Fox Hunt continued. [*** The remainder of this paragraph was revised to remove injurious or privileged information. It describes a specific instance of covert foreign interference. ***] No action was taken at that time or, more generally, since. [Source]

Many other redactions have annotations hinting at their content. Paragraph 112 "describes a CSIS assessment," and comes immediately after discussion of the perception that the extent and success of foreign interference in Canada has been limited. Several other redactions cover "the objectives and tools of China’s foreign interference"; "the foreign interference activities of a specific country in Canada and their implications for a specific ethnocultural group"; "how states interfere in various aspects of Canada’s electoral process"; "Examples that illustrate foreign interference activities directed at elected officials and their staff"; "how certain countries manipulate and control mainstream and ethnic media"; "CSIS investigative challenges"; "various government measures to address Chinese Fox Hunt activities"; "CSIS communications with a number of government departments about challenges in addressing Fox Hunt activities"; and "how Interdepartmental coordination on Fox Hunt appears to have waned."

CBC’s Catharine Tunney reported on the report’s public release:

Liberal MP David McGuinty, chair of the committee, said he couldn’t answer questions about how successful those attempts have been or how many there are in a year.

[…] Stephanie Carvin, a former national security analyst who now teaches at Carleton University, said the broad nature of foreign interference in Canada drives home the need for a resiliency plan.

"It’s really hard to make foreign influence illegal in a democracy because we have free speech, because we have rules about what you’re allowed to say, but we can try and make these communities that are being targeted more resilient," she said.

"We can try and open lines of communication to either law enforcement or security agencies so these individuals who feel they’re being targeted in Canada can come forward, express their concern and feel that they are being listened to." [Source]

The Globe and Mail’s Robert Fife and Steven Chase highlighted concerns of a backlash against Chinese communities:

Wenran Jiang, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, said the report raises serious concerns if the allegations it makes are “proven to be the case.”

But he warned against any suggestion that overseas Chinese communities are the tool of the PRC. “The generalization that somehow the PRC government, its embassies and consulates can control, and do control overseas Chinese behaviour is an insult to millions of overseas Chinese, be they PRC citizens or foreign citizens of Chinese origin,” Mr. Jiang said.

“Canada must be vigilant in defending itself against any foreign interference in its internal affairs, especially from non-democratic states, but at the same time, we must be aware of the growing sinophobia and not descend into racial profiling and McCarthyism.” [Source]

Canada is the last member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance to announce a decision on the use of equipment from Chinese telecom giant Huawei in its next-generation 5G mobile networks. The U.S. has sought with limited success to persuade other countries that this would constitute an unacceptable security risk, and governments around the world have faced heavy pressure from both the U.S. and China over the issue. Canada’s position is further complicated by its custody of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s CFO and the daughter of its founder, following a U.S. extradition request. Canadian industry minister Navdeep Bains told CBC earlier this month that "we will make sure that we proceed in a manner that’s in our national interest," and "won’t get bullied by any other jurisdictions," an apparent reference to proposals from U.S. senators which Bains quickly walked back to "won’t be influenced by other jurisdictions." The Globe and Mail’s Lee Berthiaume reported last week on comments from Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff on the factors being considered:

Defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance says he is worried about anything that would give China easier access to the Canadian military’s computer networks, but says there are ways to manage any security risks from Huawei’s participation in building Canada’s new 5G networks.

[…] During a major defence conference last week, the chief of the defence staff specifically singled out China for its “malign activities in cyberspace,” an assessment echoed by several other Canadian and allied military officers.

Yet Vance also expressed confidence in the government’s ability to “mitigate” such a threat, and would not say whether he had recommended Huawei be banned from Canada’s 5G networks.

“There are ways to mitigate it,” he said. “So it is very much an active file discussion at the highest levels of government and therefore entirely inappropriate to comment on the advice I have given. But it is of concern.” [Source]

These comments might hint at an approach similar to that of the U.K., which recently announced that it would allow Huawei a limited role outside core network roles, with its market share further capped elsewhere. That decision attracted widespread criticism, notably from former Australian signals intelligence chief Simeon Gilding. In a blog post for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Gilding wrote that the Australian Signals Directorate had concluded it was not possible to adequately ensure “that hostile intelligence services could not leverage their national vendors to gain access to our 5G networks.” Although Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei has insisted that he would not allow Chinese authorities to use his company this way, such refusal is widely regarded as implausible given legal requirements and, more importantly, the underlying political reality they embody.

Thirty-eight MPs from the UK’s ruling Conservative party led a failed attempt to derail this decision last week. Reuters reported that France will also allow "non-core" use of Huawei equipment cleared by cybersecurity agency ANSSI, noting the company’s recently announced plans for a new factory in France, its first in Europe. At War on the Rocks last week, meanwhile, Andreea Brinza discussed how wariness of Russia has led some Eastern European countries "to side with Washington over China and Huawei, which now find themselves squeezed out of a region that they once considered favorable terrain."


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