A recently released document shows that Canadian intelligence officials have been tracking China’s attempts to interfere in Canadian affairs for nearly 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. We can read that China used new, perhaps more powerful techniques to achieve these goals.
The Canadian Press used the Access to Information Act to obtain the report prepared by the Federal Intelligence Advisory Committee entitled “China/Canada: Interference in the Chinese-Canadian Community.” Much of the document remains secret on the grounds that its disclosure could harm 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 launch an investigation into foreign interference in Canada following a series of media leaks about alleged Chinese interference.
The committee’s 1986 report “shows that this issue has been on the radar of Canadian intelligence 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.
Mr. Barnes, who discovered the document’s title during a recent archival search, says the Intelligence Advisory Committee was chaired by the Federal Security and Intelligence Coordinator in the Privy Council Office. “His reports were sent to a variety of high-ranking government officials,” he explains.
The 1986 report found that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) “continued its efforts to influence the many large Chinese communities abroad and to exploit these communities for its economic and political purposes.”
“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, potentially more effective techniques are being used to influence Chinese communities in Canada. »
Cheuk Kwan, co-chair of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, is not surprised by the report. He says he has been aware of Chinese efforts to incite individuals and groups to interfere in Canadian affairs since the early 1980s, although activity at that time was “at a very low level.” “They knew what they were trying to do. “It wasn’t an accident,” he said in an interview.
Mr. Kwan believes that after the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989, Beijing stepped up its efforts to influence Chinese communities in Canada to restore its badly damaged image.
Evidence has emerged from time to time over the decades suggesting that Canadian intelligence officials have an interest in China’s behind-the-scenes actions. In recent years, the federal government and its security agencies have begun to openly highlight Beijing as particularly active in foreign interference activities against Canada.
Chinese government officials have always denied any interference in Canadian affairs.
Media leaks from anonymous security sources about alleged attempts by China to interfere in the last two general elections have prompted the federal Liberals to explain what Canada is doing in response to those attempts. Opposition parties continue to press the government to launch a full public inquiry.
Mr. Kwan believes that while an investigation could help document the history of China’s interference plans, it would essentially be a “looking back” rather than a “moving forward.”
The partial release of the intelligence report 37 years after it was prepared highlights the need for Canada to establish an appropriate system for the release of historical intelligence and security files after a certain period of time, Justice Alan Barnes said.
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.
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