A newly released document demonstrates that Canadian intelligence officials have been tracking Chinese attempts to interfere in Canadian affairs for almost forty years.
The February 1986 intelligence report warned that Beijing was using overt political tactics and covert operations to influence and exploit the Chinese diaspora in Canada. It says China was using new, potentially more powerful techniques to achieve these goals.
The Canadian Press used the Access to Information Act to obtain the report entitled “China/Canada: Interference in the Chinese-Canadian Community”, produced by the Federal Intelligence Advisory Committee.
Much of the document remains secret on the grounds that its disclosure could be injurious to the conduct of international affairs, the defense of Canada, or the detection, prevention or suppression of subversive or hostile activities.
The release of the heavily redacted report comes amid pressure on the Liberal government to hold an inquiry into foreign interference in Canada following a series of media leaks about alleged interference by China.
The committee’s 1986 report “demonstrates that this issue has been on the Canadian intelligence radar for decades,” said Alan Barnes, a former intelligence analyst who is now a senior fellow at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.
Barnes, who recently discovered the title of the document during archival research, says the Intelligence Advisory Committee was chaired by the federal coordinator for security and intelligence in the Privy Council Office.
“His reports were sent to a wide range of senior government officials,” he explains.
The 1986 report mentioned that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) “continued its efforts to influence the many large overseas Chinese communities and to exploit these communities for its economic and political ends”.
“In Canada, as in many other Western countries, the PRC uses both overt political activities and covert intelligence operations […] to achieve these goals, the report adds. New and potentially more effective techniques are being used to influence Chinese communities in Canada. »
“Not an accident”
Cheuk Kwan, co-chair of the Toronto Association for China Democracy, isn’t surprised by the report. He says he has been aware of Chinese efforts to induce individuals and groups to interfere in Canadian affairs since the early 1980s, although activity was at “a very low level” at that time.
“They knew what they were trying to do. It was no accident,” he said in an interview.
Mr. Kwan believes that Beijing had stepped up its efforts to influence Chinese communities in Canada following the bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, in a bid to restore its badly damaged image.
Evidence has surfaced from time to time over the decades indicating the interest on the part of Canadian intelligence officials in China’s behind-the-scenes actions.
In recent years, the federal government and its security agencies have begun to openly point the finger at Beijing as particularly active in foreign interference activities against Canada.
Chinese government officials have consistently denied any interference in Canadian affairs.
Media leaks from unnamed security sources about alleged Chinese attempts to interfere in the last two general elections have prompted federal Liberals to explain what Canada is doing in response to those attempts.
Opposition parties continue to press the government to open a full public inquiry.
Mr. Kwan believes that while an investigation could help document the history of China’s interference schemes, it would essentially be “looking back” not “moving forward”.
The partial release of the intelligence report, 37 years after it was written, illustrates the need for Canada to adopt an appropriate system for the declassification of historical intelligence and security records after a specific period, judge Alan Barnes.
Canada is the only member of the Five Eyes — which also includes the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand — that does not have a process for declassifying historical documents, he notes.