Trudeau defends recent elections before inquiry

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has defended his government’s efforts to ensure election integrity at a public inquiry looking into foreign interference in Canada.

He argued that the last two elections in 2019 and 2021 had been “free and fair” and decided only by Canadians.

The inquiry has largely focused on investigating allegations that China meddled in Canadian politics.

India has also allegedly conducted its own operations.

A briefing document from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) reveals the spy agency said that China had “clandestinely and deceptively” interfered in the last two federal elections.

In one instance in the 2019 election, international students were allegedly coerced into supporting one Liberal candidate in a nomination race.

A large part of Mr Trudeau’s sworn testimony focused on allegations surrounding the candidate, former Liberal member of parliament Han Dong.

Mr Dong, who resigned to sit as an independent in March 2023 after being accused of involvement in Chinese political interference, has denied the allegations.

The inquiry heard this month that Canada’s spy agency had accused China of funding a charter bus in 2019 to send Chinese international students to help Mr Dong secure his party’s nomination.

Mr Trudeau, the Liberal leader, said the CSIS had made him “aware” of evidence regarding the incident.

But the prime minister said the information he often received in intelligence briefings was “very sensitive” and “still needs to be confirmed”.

“Irregularities being observed are not enough to overturn a democratic event,” he said.

“A well-grounded suspicion does warrant more follow-ups but also might not hit the high threshold for overturning the result.”

Other allegations of foreign interference include opaque cash injections of thousands of dollars from China and a proxy of India’s government providing illegal financial support to Canada’s pro-India politicians.

China and India have repeatedly denied any allegations that they are among the countries that have interfered in Canada’s affairs – with India recently calling them “baseless”.

Allegations about foreign meddling in Canadian politics emerged in 2022, stemming from leaked intelligence reports.

Mr Trudeau – whose Liberal Party won the elections in 2019 and 2021 – came under pressure to set up the inquiry after multiple stories about meddling were published in Canadian media outlets over the following months.

There has been no evidence that the outcomes of either general election were affected – something Mr Trudeau highlighted on Wednesday during roughly three hours of testimony.

“Those elections held their integrity – they were decided by Canadians,” he said.

Officials have told the inquiry that reports of interference often didn’t meet the “threshold” necessary to inform the public.

In a recorded interview shown to the committee, former Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says he was briefed on allegations around Mr Dong’s nomination race in 2019.

He says he was “not concerned” at the time because it had not been firmly substantiated and the intelligence had not suggested that Mr Dong was aware of the irregularities or that the actual election in the riding – constituency or electoral district – had been compromised.

An interim report from the commission is expected early next month.

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