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HomeBusinessYear in review: 23 foreign interference stories in 2023

Year in review: 23 foreign interference stories in 2023

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Bob Mackin

After three years of varying degrees of pandemic restrictions, Canada was wide-open to the world for all of 2023.

Throughout 2023, a steady stream of headlines about the extent to which foreign entities are exploiting Canada’s openness for their gain.

Justin Trudeau and David Johnston (right) on Sept. 28, 2017 (PMO/YouTube)

It is why a senior Quebec judge is embarking on a foreign interference public inquiry expected to last for much of 2024.  

Highlights of 23 foreign interference stories of 2023. 

Feb. 1: Photographer Chase Doak captures an image of a mysterious balloon high over Billings, Mont. It turns out to be a Chinese spy balloon that flew off-course — it even travelled over parts of British Columbia. The U.S. shoots it down off Florida three days later.

Feb. 17: Globe and Mail reports on leaks from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) that China’s Vancouver consul general in 2021, Tong Xiaoling, boasted of helping defeat Conservative incumbents Kenny Chiu and Alice Wong and elect Liberals Parm Bains and Wilson Miao. 

Feb. 27: Treasury Board President Mona Fortier bans Chinese-developed video app TikTok from federal government devices due to security and privacy risks. B.C. and City of Vancouver followed. Eight months later, successor Anita Anand bans China’s WeChat multi-use app and Russia’s Kaspersky anti-virus products.

March 6: Amid calls for a public inquiry into the Chinese Communist Party’s interference in Canadian elections, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government will consult on a proposed registry for foreign agents and appoint a “special rapporteur” to recommend whether to call a public inquiry. Nine days later, Trudeau reveals former Governor General David Johnston as the “special rapporteur.” 

March 16: Globe and Mail reports on another CSIS leak, that Tong worked to defeat Taiwan-supporting Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart in favour of a Chinese-Canadian candidate. “If there is proof of this, I’d be as mad as hell as everyone else,” Mayor Ken Sim says.

March 22: Don Valley MP Han Dong tearfully quits the Liberal caucus after Global News claims he advised a Chinese diplomat about delaying the release of Canadian hostages Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Dong denies the allegations.

David Johnston and Xi Jinping (GG.ca)

March 31: Chiu testifies at a House of Commons committee whose members include Bains. A reporter asks Bains if he won Steveston-Richmond East in 2021 because of foreign influence. “Nope, not at all,” Bains says. “Fair and square.”

April 20: Dong files a $15 million defamation lawsuit in Ontario. He admits he liaised with Chinese diplomats in Toronto and Ottawa, but on behalf of constituents and in his capacity as co-chair of the Canada-China Legislative Association.

April 20: Sou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok parent Bytedance, answers a question at the TED Conference in Vancouver about the risk of TikTok skewing a U.S. election. He says he is “confident… we can reduce this risk to as close as zero, as possible.”

May 8: Foreign minister Melanie Joly expels Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei for intimidating Conservative MP Michael Chong. Meanwhile, senior members of pro-China B.C. associations are in Beijing for a group meeting with Xi Jinping. One of them is Wang Dianqi, who has donated to the Liberals, NDP and Richmond Coun. Alexa Loo, in addition to giving cash and goods to China’s People’s Liberation Army.

May 23: Johnston’s report concludes foreign interference by China is a reality, but evidence of meddling in the 2019 and 2021 elections is insufficient. Johnston says too much information is top secret and recommends against a public inquiry.

June 9: Questions about Johnston’s friendship with the Trudeau family and involvement in the Pierre Trudeau Foundation won’t go away. Despite denying conflict of interest, Johnston resigns, citing the partisan debate since his report. He recommends the Liberal government consult opposition leaders — the same ones who called for his resignation — about a replacement.

June 13: New RCMP commissioner Michael Duheme tells a House of Commons committee that there are more than 100 foreign interference investigations, including one about the targeting of Chong. Duheme pledges the Mounties will assist the Commissioner of Canada Elections after CSIS tells Vancouver-East NDP MP Jenny Kwan and former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole about China’s efforts to undermine their political careers.

June 18: Guru Nanak Sikh temple president Hardeep Singh Nijjar murdered in Surrey. Two suspects remain at-large. Nijjar’s associates point the finger at the Indian government because of his campaigning for a separate state in India’s Punjab, called Khalistan. 

June 24: Senators Victor Oh and Yuen Pau Woo speak at a Parliament Hill protest to mark the 1923 law that excluded most Chinese citizens from Canada. They also campaign against a foreign agents registry. Woo helped B.C. activists Ally Wang and Ivan Pak draft their e-petition, which garnered support from 2,450 citizens. A competing petition, tabled in November, received 5,799 signatures in favour of a registry. 

July 5: The Pakistani student who co-organized Lower Mainland roadblocks funded by a California charity pleads guilty to five counts of mischief and was sent to jail for seven days. A Provincial Court judge also ordered Muhammad Zain Ul-Haq to serve 30 days house arrest and 31 days curfew. The Save Old Growth co-founder boasted in August 2022 in a New York Times story that his group received US$170,000 in grants from the Climate Emergency Fund (CEF), where he now sits on the advisory board.

Tong Xiaoling (standing) with NDP Minister George Chow (right) and Liberal MP Wilson Miao (left) during her last-known public appearance in Vancouver on July 10. (PRC Consulate)

Sept. 7: Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc appoints Justice Marie-Josee Hogue of Quebec’s court of appeal to head the commission to investigate 2019 and 2021 election meddling by China, Russia and other state and non-state actors. Hogue’s first report is due at the end of February 2024 and a final report at the end of 2024.

July 20: Ex-Mountie Bill Majcher arrested in Vancouver, accused of violating the Security of Information Act. The Globe and Mail reports in August that Majcher is accused of targeting real estate investor Kevin Sun and using former law enforcement contacts to help gain the release of Huawei’s Meng Wenzhou.

Sept. 12: Chong testifies in Washington, D.C. before the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, telling lawmakers that Canada is taking too long to enact a foreign agents registry. 

Sept. 18: Trudeau shocks the House of Commons, declaring there are “credible allegations potentially linking” India’s government to the killing of Nijjar. “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” he says. India’s government retaliates two weeks later by ordering 41 Canadian diplomats to leave.

Oct. 19: The first Chinese government delegation to make an official trip to B.C. since 2018 visits city manager Paul Mochrie. No politicians greet Guo Yonghang, the Communist Party secretary and ex-mayor of sister city Guangzhou.

Nov. 14: Despite several hundred people living in Canada who are connected to Iran’s government, Trudeau is noncommittal when asked whether he would brand the Islamic Revolutionary Guard a terrorist entity. Later that evening, anti-Israel protesters, demanding he call for a ceasefire in Gaza, chase Trudeau out of Vij’s restaurant. One of them is the Vancouver-based international coordinator for Samidoun, a pro-Hamas group banned in Israel and Germany, but granted not-for-profit status in 2021 by Ottawa.

Nov. 30: U.S. Department of Justice announces charges against Indian citizen Nikhil Gupta. Prosecutors allege that Gupta was recruited by an associate in the Indian government in a murder-for-hire scheme targeting a New York associate of Nijjar, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun of the Khalistani separatist group Sikhs For Justice.

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