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Foreign interference would not have harmed the last federal election

Photo: Sean Kilpatrick La Presse canadienne La commissaire Marie-Josée Hogue lors des audiences d’avril dernier

Acts of foreign interference may have affected the electoral results of a small number of ridings in the last two federal elections, but had no impact on the election of the Liberal Party of Canada, concludes the commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue in her preliminary report released Friday.

“Acts of foreign interference were committed during the last two federal general elections, but they were not undermined the integrity of our electoral system,” she said Friday, speaking to the media, shortly after tabling her report in Ottawa.

Although the elections were not compromised, the interference activities still “undermined public confidence” in Canadian democracy — “the greatest harm Canada has suffered,” she says .

Starting last fall, Commissioner Hogue looked into allegations of interference allegedly committed during the last two federal elections. His long-awaited report coincides with the arrest of three men suspected of assassinating Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar on Canadian soil in June 2023.

In his 227 report pages, the commissioner reveals that “it is possible” that the interference had an impact on the results in a handful of ridings: notably in 2019, during the nomination race of Liberal candidate Han Dong, in Ontario, then in 2021 in the riding of Steveston–Richmond East, in Vancouver.

Impact on the nomination

Last year, a Global News report revealed that Chinese international students were allegedly bused to Toronto's Don Valley-North riding to support Liberal candidate Han Dong in his investiture meeting.

The Quebec Court of Appeal judge notes that these allegations are “more corroborated” than others, but that, since the riding is considered a Liberal stronghold, it would probably not have had an impact on the party that won the seat.

On the other hand, this could have had an impact on who was elected to Parliament, she points out.

The Chinese student bus “incident” demonstrates “the extent to which nomination races can be gateways for foreign states that want to interfere in our democratic process”, she warns in her report.

She promises to look into the rules — and the absence of rules — of the investiture assemblies in the second phase of the commission's work.

In Ottawa, the Minister of Public Safety and Democratic Institutions, Dominic LeBlanc, affirmed that the government would not wait for the second phase of work to “take action”. He is preparing to table, in the coming days, a bill aimed at “strengthening the government's capacity with regard to foreign interference”.

A limited analysis

Judge Hogue believes that the disinformation campaign about Conservative MP Kenny Chiu would also have had repercussions on the electoral results in the riding of Steveston–Richmond-Est, during the last federal election. The constituency is home to a large Chinese diaspora community.

The latter had been the target of false stories portraying him as unfavorable to China. He ultimately lost his seat on election night in 2021.

“Clear indications of PRC involvement exist and it is reasonable to believe that these false statements impacted the results in this constituency,” the report reads. The commission also affirmed that China has been the most active state actor in terms of interference in the country's politics.

However, Judge Hogue reiterates that even assuming that some voters changed their allegiance, we have no way of knowing whether there were enough of them to change the result.

During public hearings last month, former Conservative leader Erin O'Toole claimed that Chinese interference had cost his party “five to nine seats” in the 2021 election. In her report, Justice Hogue attests however, that the evidence brought to his attention did not allow him to draw such a conclusion.

Several “communication problems” within the government apparatus were also noted in the commission's report. The evidence heard reveals that on some occasions, information related to foreign interference did not reach the intended recipients, while on other occasions, recipients misinterpreted the information that was intended. they received.

Even if she agrees that no one acted in bad faith, Judge Hogue indicates that these are “serious problems on which it will need to be investigated.”

Contradictions with the Johnston report

Commissioner Hogue's conclusions have certain similarities with those of special rapporteur David Johnston, who also looked into the allegations of interference last year. The latter concluded that foreign governments had attempted to influence Canadian candidates and voters, but that there was no reason to question the validity of the elections.

He too found “serious deficiencies” in the way intelligence is relayed to ministries and politicians.

The rest of the allegations were, according to Mr. Johnston, based on erroneous, isolated or incomplete information. Judge Hogue did not confirm these findings in her report.

In the eyes of the Conservatives, this report contradicts the statements of Prime Minister Trudeau, who declared in April that “not a single riding nor the result of the election as a whole was affected or changed due to the interference

The submission of the commission's preliminary report comes after more than eight months of work and around twenty days of public hearings held from the start of the 'year. A second round of public hearings will be held this fall, and the final report is expected to be released before the end of the year.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116