HANSARD: Speech in Parliament on foreign interference, Liberal government response and interim report

Debates of May 9th, 2024
House of Commons Hansard #312 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session
Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs
Orders of the Day


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am entering into this debate, and first of all I want to say I certainly support the privilege motion before us. The reality is that what we are learning and seeing is that foreign interference is real. It is happening right before our eyes. In fact, it has been happening for some time.

Commissioner Hogue in her interim report indicated that in both the 2019 election and the 2021 election there had been foreign interference activities. What we learned as well is that those activities occur in a variety of formats. While I am shocked to learn that members of Parliament are being targeted this time through potential cyber-attacks, what we know is that foreign interference tactics have been used in a variety of ways.

We know that the member for Wellington—Halton Hills was one of the first individuals for whom we learned that his family had been targeted. He learned this not because the government informed him in the proper format, but we learned it through leaks in the media. It was only because of the escalation of the situation that we were informed that we were also being targeted. I learned much later I am a target of Chinese foreign interference activities and have been for some time. I learned that, in fact, I would be an evergreen target, meaning I will forever be targeted, as I understand the situation.

Now we learn that 18 other members of Parliament have been targeted with cyber-attacks. That is the reality. The public hearing the NDP has pushed for is so important and so significant. In the interim report, what we learned from some of the testimony was shocking to me.

Kenny Chiu, the former member of Parliament for Steveston—Richmond East, was subject to foreign interference activities. We will never know whether those activities would have altered the outcome of the election in that particular riding, but notwithstanding, foreign interference activities were occurring, and even the government's agencies were observing this. They had this information. In fact in my case, in the 2021 election it was noted that the incident related to Vancouver East during the campaign, that campaign activity, is believed to may well have been a foreign interference activity from China. However, none of that information was communicated, not to me, not to Kenny Chiu and not to anybody, really.

One has to wonder, when the government says it has set up teams of communication, different agencies charged with this work, why not one of them informed the people who were impacted the most. This is exactly the case here with 18 members of Parliament who are being impacted by cyber-attacks from China. One wonders how this is even possible. How is it that the government has multiple agencies and that the people impacted the most are not even informed?

What is the purpose of foreign interference activities from China and other countries? They want to disrupt our democratic system. They want to send a message to those being targeted in one way or another. The commissioner noted in her report that the diaspora community is particularly vulnerable and targeted in that way, and yet what work is being done to protect the diaspora community? I do not see a whole lot of activities from the government side. Its communication system is a colossal failure in addressing the issue.

Foreign interference activities, as I was mentioning, happen in a variety of different formats. I have to raise a question, as well, with respect to the threshold that the government sets internally, to determine what would require action. The threshold is set so high that virtually nothing will occur. Ministers testified about how high the threshold ought to be. One of the bars, I think, is set at whether or not the interference would change an election. If the bar is set at that level, does that mean to say that all the other activities that were occurring, which may not have changed an election outcome, did not occur? Does that mean to say that there is no foreign interference? Of course not.

The question becomes this for the government: What action will it take to address foreign interference activities and to take them seriously enough to curb those activities and to send a clear message to the actors that this will not be tolerated by Canada? What action will be taken to safeguard those people who are being impacted?

I am a member of Parliament. In many ways, those of us who are members of Parliament are, I would say, privileged people. We have, to some extent, some level of protection, but everyday people do not. They definitely need and deserve protection.

I was at an event just this last weekend with Hong Kongers. There were many people there. It was a cultural event, a celebration of Hong Kongers' culture, their practices, their business smarts and their entrepreneurship. There were people from high school who had crocheted cool little items that they were putting on a table to sell. There were a variety of artisans putting their items forward. There were also people there who wore masks because they were worried about being targeted.

In Canada, the government had much pressure put on it. There was my request for it to have a special immigration measure, a lifeboat scheme for Hong Kongers who are trying to escape the prosecution, the draconian national security law. Most recently, article 23 has been passed in Hong Kong, where there are escalating arbitrary detentions and arrests. Hong Kongers need the government to take action on a special immigration measure.

So many Hong Kongers came to Canada needing to be able to find safety. They applied, under the special measure, for permanent residence. Initially the government processed those applications within six months. It is now up to 21 months. For some of the applicants, their study permits and work permits have already expired. People are in such fear about having to return to Hong Kong and then be out of status.

Thank goodness the government finally made an announcement this week to extend the program. The government could have actually been even more efficient in that process and just automatically renewed the expiring work permits and study permits. Instead, it decided to make everybody go through yet another round of applications, spending scarce resources within IRCC instead of directing those resources into processing permanent residence applications in an expeditious fashion. That is typical; the government always finds some other way to be less efficient.

I wanted to raise that point because of how important it is to ensure that Hong Kongers are able to get to a place of safety and not be sent back to Hong Kong.

I want to turn back to the issue around foreign interference. As I was mentioning, there are a variety of different ways it can happen. In my case there was one particular event that occurred, that I am aware of, where I suspect that there were foreign interference activities, because the information that was provided does not add up. In this event, I made a complaint to Elections Canada. I informed CSIS. I reported it to the RCMP. I do not believe those agencies took the matter seriously. I do not think they investigated it seriously.

Then, Elections Canada closed the case and deemed that there was no foreign interference, even though it did not follow the money and even though, in the background, I learned I am an evergreen target. We have learned in the media, and elsewhere, that there is a $250,000 slush fund that is put out there for foreign interference activities from China. How do the organizations know, without thoroughly investigating the matter, that there was no foreign interference in that instance?

I know, most likely, that the incident in the 2021 election alone would not have altered the outcome of the election. I would still have been elected because I won by a very big margin. However, that is not the point, is it? The point is that I believe there were foreign interference activities, and we needed to thoroughly investigate the matter. The government has set up multiple agencies to look into these issues. When they learned of the issue, why did they not inform me, in real time, when it was happening?

In the case of Kenny Chiu, a misinformation and disinformation campaign on WeChat was happening. He was not informed either. The agencies and the government were looking into foreign interference activities, and they knew. Did they do anything? Nope. If we juxtapose this to what was going on with the Prime Minister during that time, there was a disinformation campaign about him on Facebook. What did the government agencies do? They phoned Facebook about that disinformation campaign. What did Facebook do? It took it down. My point is this: Why should everybody not be treated equally? They are not, and that is the truth.

We learned in the inquiry that perhaps in the case of WeChat, the government did not follow through on it because it was the Chinese Canadian community that was being impacted, as though somehow Chinese Canadians do not deserve the same protection against foreign interference activities. It is absolutely horrendous.

I also want to raise a point for all members of Parliament in terms of potential impact. In her report, Justice Hogue indicated clearly that, with respect to foreign interference, there is a deep concern of the impact on elected officials. The report actually said that foreign interference actors undertake to target elected officials who speak out against certain foreign states such as China by deplatforming them, and there are also misinformation and disinformation campaigns. The goal, of course, is to undermine credibility, and that is what we saw in the last two elections. Of note, the commission said that part of the impact for elected officials, and part of the goal, is to potentially change behaviours and messages.

I can not help but wonder this. In the House of Commons we know there are five poisons with China, one being the Uyghur genocide issue. The other is Taiwan, Falun Gong, and I can go on. However, let me focus on the Uyghur genocide issue for one minute.

We had a vote in the House and some members of Parliament abstained from that vote. They were here prior to vote and participated, but when it came to the vote, they somehow magically disappeared. One of those actors is the member for Don Valley North. As it happens, on the matter related to the member for Don Valley North, the commissioner has some very damning findings with respect to that nomination.

The Prime Minister said that he did not know about all of this. Let us pretend that is the case. Now that he does know, what action is he taking with respect to the finding of the commissioner, who said that foreign interference activities could have impacted its outcome of that nomination? If the Prime Minister believes there is nothing to see here, as he is continuing to say, then why is the member for Don Valley North not back in the Liberal caucus?

Another thing that came out of the hearing that I found shocking is this. The Prime Minister was at the hearing and testified that he did not read documents that were classified top secret. What head of state does not read classified top secret documents that impact national security? That is weird.

Let us put that aside for a minute. The Prime Minister said that he was not informed, with the exception that on that point he was contradicted by the director of CSIS, who said that, in fact, he and his staff were informed, that they were briefed. Magically, it seems like they do not know about it.

There is much to be done. There is a big question, which is the premise of the inquiry, and that is, who knew what and when and what did the government do about it? I am still waiting for the final report to come out, and I am excited to receive it.

The next phase of the inquiry will be very much focused on the impacts and issues related to that diaspora community, which did not get a chance to fully participate in phase one of the inquiry.

Much work needs to be done, and there is no excuse for the government to not take the necessary actions to tackle foreign interference activities. We learned through the hearing that China is the most sophisticated country targeting us in Canada with foreign interference activities. We also learned through the hearing that all the other countries are onto it and are far more advanced in dealing with this issue, but Canada is not.

For my colleagues, who have just learned they are being targeted, this is absolutely a question of privilege. We must study this issue, get to the bottom of it and be clear about what needs to be done and what actions need to be taken, because Canada's democratic process is in jeopardy. All 338 of us, and the work that we do, are in jeopardy. We cannot allow for any country to threaten us in that way. We must stand together, united in saying no to all foreign interference actors out there, that they will not be allowed to try to take us down. We must do that in the House of Commons.


Kevin Lamoureux Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the government does take foreign interference very seriously. We have seen that in the legislative measures and other resources. We have had all sorts of different types of discussions. We have had reports provided to Parliament. We have continued to bring forward legislation as recently as earlier this week. The point is that we do take it very seriously.

We also recognize that Canada is one of a number of countries around the world being targeted with foreign interference. There is more than one player persistently trying to undermine democracies. We are very much aware of those players.

The question I have for the member is this. Looking forward, it is important that this goes to the procedure and House affairs committee. Collectively, it is in all of our best interests for that to happen. I wonder what the member's thoughts are on the importance of working on a consensus and trying to build something out of PROC to ensure that we have a united front in taking on foreign international interference.


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to point out that supposedly the government took this so seriously that it actually slow walked the legislation. The foreign agent registry was supposed to be tabled last year. Actually, I was informed by a source that this legislation was already drafted last year. The consultation had been completed. However, months later, finally we see the legislation. The government is not exactly on the ball in trying to fight foreign interference.

Notwithstanding those who are impacted, the government knew long ago and did not even bother to ensure that they were informed, to the point where a member's family could be in jeopardy. Then it did not do anything about it until there was a leak. That does not build a whole lot of confidence for me in terms of what the government is doing to tackle foreign interference. There is new information on which the government needs to take action. We will have to wait and see about that.

With respect to working collaboratively, yes, of course, but not in the interest of trying to hide information. I just wanted to point that out.


Luc Desilets Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, up until the beginning of 2023, the Liberal government was completely denying that there was interference. We could ask all the questions we wanted, but they just denied its existence, full stop. The opposition parties fought for a rapporteur to be appointed, and we succeeded in, I believe, March 2023, but his appointment was far from unanimous. It was a failure. Now we have Ms. Hogue, who seems to be doing a great job.

After everything my colleague just said, I really empathize with her. I would like her to use some adjectives and describe to me precisely what she is going through because of this government, which has been keeping us in the dark for years, since it had highly relevant information about foreign interference.


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I fear that if I were to use those adjectives, I would be kicked out of the House, as they would be unparliamentary.

However, let me just say this. The government was asleep at the wheel. What we have learned from the commissioner is that, and we are not alone in being targeted by foreign interference activities, Canada is way behind the eight ball. Canada was basically not there, despite continual warnings. That is the reality. Hence, we are here today. We are learning that more and more members of Parliament are being targeted.

I should also add that other actions need to be taken. Take, for example, what is happening in the United States with TikTok and the actions being taken in trying to prevent foreign interference activities that can occur through that platform. What is the Liberal government doing? Nothing. I think that kind of tells us everything.


Rachel Blaney North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, the reality is that Canada is being targeted, and the government is not doing the things it needs to do to be transparent about it.

One of the things that all of us should be concerned about is the fact that so many members learned about that foreign interference through the media. That is not the way anyone should learn that he or she is being targeted.

Could the member talk a little about solutions? With respect to the foreign registry, there is a lot of concern from ethnic communities that feel they are going to be specifically targeted, and they want safety. What are the solutions moving forward? What does the government actually need to take action on?


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, on the legislation that was tabled, it needs to come into law before the next election and be implemented. That is a key piece of what needs to be done.

Of course, there are many elements within that legislation that will be in regulation. We do not even know what the mandate for the commission looks like. Let us also keep in mind that this is not the be all and end all. That is only one tool to address foreign interference activities.

I would also say this for PROC. The work that PROC needs to do is not done, because what came out in the inquiry was that there was contradictory information. On the one hand, Katie Telford told the committee that of course the Prime Minister read all the confidential documents. Then, at the hearing, the Prime Minister said that he did not read any of them.

Who is not telling the truth? We need to get to the bottom of this. They do not get to sweep this under the rug. We need to get to the bottom of it, to hold people to account and, most important, to actually take the real actions that are necessary to address foreign interference.


Mike Morrice Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are fortunate to have debate in this place like we just heard from the member for Vancouver East. We are lucky that we can reflect on the words she shared with us this morning.

I am deeply concerned to hear about the double standard that exists for members in this place when it comes to foreign interference, and I would really appreciate hearing more from her. I understand that she wants to see Bill C-70 move ahead quickly. However, my concern is that the government is going to say that it is no problem at all, that it will all be solved, that Bill C-70 will fix the issues we have shared when it comes to foreign interference.

Could the member share with us the extent to which she feels that is or is not the case? Could she also share more, elaborating on the question from our colleague, the member for North Island—Powell River, on the extent to which she would like to see the government do more, and do it faster, to address the deep concerns she shared with respect to foreign interference?


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, on the issues around the bill itself, of course, it needs to go through the House and it needs to go to committee, to have it invite the diaspora community, in particular, to share its comments around it. In talking with the people in the broader public, most of them are just so relieved that, finally, we have this legislation before us.

It is going to be really important to ensure that there is not going to be some disinformation campaign out there, trying to say what the bill is and what it is not. That is critical as well. However, much work needs to be done to get this through the system.

I also want to emphasize that the bill, in and of itself, is not the answer to all the foreign interference activities. We already know, on investigation, that, yes, the bill would create some offenses that would allow for potential prosecution, but a lot of the aspects hinge on other actions that the government can take, for example, nominations.

On the question around nominations, and I have already highlighted the potential impact for the nomination that took place in Don Valley North, what action will the government take with respect to nominations? On the question around independence of these matters, it is also all the different agencies within government that, frankly, are not exactly independent and need to follow up on foreign interference activities.



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HANSARD: Foreign Interference and Alleged Reputational Harm to Members of Parliament

Outside this chamber, just yesterday, there were individuals shouting, questioning and jeering about who the traitors may be. Members of Parliament had to walk past these individuals on the members' way to the House to do their work. I believe we must find a way to disclose which MPs are knowingly, intentionally, wittingly or semi-wittingly engaging with foreign states or their proxies to undermine Canada's democratic processes and institutions. I believe this can be done in a way that does not compromise national security.

If there are no consequences for MPs who knowingly help foreign governments act against Canadian interests, we will continue to be an easy target. This will further erode the trust and faith Canadians have in our democratic processes. If allowed to continue, it will further impugn the integrity of the House. Revealing any member of Parliament, former or present, who is a willing participant in foreign interference activities would have the effect of deterring this kind of behaviour. Moreover, it would send a clear message to those foreign states that this cannot continue and that they will not be able to continue to use parliamentarians in this way. This will further reassure the public of the integrity of the House.

I strongly believe that the House should refer the matter to the procedure and House affairs committee. A possible way to deal with the issue would be for committee members to undergo the necessary security screening to examine the unredacted report and look into the allegations about parliamentarians who were “‘witting or semi-witting’ participants in the efforts of foreign states to interfere in our politics.” We could allow the named parliamentarians to be informed and to come before the committee as witnesses; we could then explore options on how to disclose the named parliamentarians without compromising national security or police investigations of the matter.

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