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Canada announces a probe to examine possible Chinese election interference

Sean Kilpatrick/AP
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, on Monday, March 6, 2023.

TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday he will appoint a special investigator to decide whether there should be a public inquiry into reports of Chinese interference in Canada's elections.

Trudeau also is having a Parliament national security committee examine classified information on the matter.

The Globe and Mail, citing unidentified intelligence sources, reported last month that China preferred to see Trudeau's Liberals re-elected in the 2021 election and worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered unfriendly to Beijing.

Opposition parties have been demanding a full public inquiry.

Trudeau declined to do that now, but said he would name an independent special rapporteur who will decide if a public inquiry is needed. Trudeau said he will abide by the recommendation.

"We will ask the independent special rapporteur, as one of the first tasks of their mandate, to provide the government with a recommendation as to what the appropriate next step be — whether it be an inquiry, an investigation or a judicial review — and what the scope of that work may be," Trudeau said.

Trudeau said that "all political leaders agree that the election outcomes in 2019, and in 2021, were not impacted by foreign interference. But even if it didn't change the results of our elections, any interference attempt, by any foreign actor, is troubling and serious."

Opposition Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre earlier Monday criticized the idea of a Parliament committee being involved.

He said that would result only in officials presenting opposition lawmakers with "some information and then swear them to secrecy so they could never speak about it again. So effectively, that would be a trick to try and prevent anyone debating the subject."

A panel of civil servants recently issued a report that concluded there were foreign attempts to interfere, but none affected the outcome of the election.

"We have long known, as an independent report confirmed again last week, that the Chinese government, and other regimes like Iran and Russia, have attempted to interfere not just in our democracy, but in our country in general, whether it's our institutions, our businesses, our research facilities, or in the daily lives of our citizens," Trudeau said.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, meanwhile, said Monday it is investigating possible violations of the Security of Information Act concerning recent media reports about alleged foreign interference in the last two federal elections.

Daniel Béland, a political science professor at McGill University in Montreal, said appointing a special investigator is a clear attempt to buy time.

"The fact that he didn't rule out a potential special public inquiry suggests this is now a real possibility, even if such an inquiry would appear as a politically risky Pandora's box for Trudeau's Liberals," Béland said.

"It really depends of what will be discovered in the following weeks and months but the entire situation is turning into a major political challenge for the Liberals that's unlikely to go away anytime soon."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.