Canadian Security Magazine

Spy agency told election chief of possible meddling in nomination, inquiry hears

The Canadian Press   

News foreign interference

By Jim Bronskill

Chief electoral officer Stéphane Perrault says Canada’s spy agency told him during the 2019 general election about possible foreign meddling in a political nomination contest.

A document tabled Thursday at a commission of inquiry into foreign interference says Perrault decided at that point no action could be taken on the issue in the Toronto riding of Don Valley North.

As head of Elections Canada, Perrault is responsible for ensuring Canadians can exercise their democratic rights to vote and be a candidate.


The document, a summary of the commission’s classified interview with Perrault, says he noted that participation in a nomination contest is not regulated in the same way as an election.

Perrault also pointed out that no complaints had been lodged by other participants in the nomination contest.

A 2023 media report alleged that China interfered with the nomination of Han Dong as the Liberal candidate in Don Valley North in 2019.

At the inquiry Thursday, Perrault was asked whether the matter brought to him by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service involved the Liberal party’s nomination contest.

Perrault said he was not authorized to go beyond what was stated in the document.

In the interview with the commission, he said that following the 2019 election, a nomination contest report audit was conducted as part of the usual process.

The file was referred to the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, which conducts investigations, for reasons apparently unrelated to the allegation of interference, such as accuracy, completeness or missed filing deadlines.

A heavily redacted document tabled Thursday said CSIS spoke with the commissioner’s office in 2019 concerning allegations of irregularities in Don Valley North.

The inquiry hearings are delving into alleged interference by China, India, Russia and others in the 2019 and 2021 general elections.

Overall, Perrault told the inquiry he has confidence in the integrity of the last two elections with respect to his mandate.

In his report last May, David Johnston, a special rapporteur appointed by the government to look into possible foreign meddling, said irregularities were observed with Dong’s nomination in 2019.

Johnston said there was “well-grounded suspicion” that the irregularities were tied to the Chinese consulate in Toronto, with whom Dong maintained a relationship.

However, Johnston found no evidence Dong was aware of the irregularities or the consulate’s potential involvement in his nomination.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was briefed about the irregularities, although no specific recommendation was provided, Johnston added. “He concluded there was no basis to displace Mr. Dong as the candidate for Don Valley North. This was not an unreasonable conclusion based on the intelligence available to the prime minister at the time.”

During testimony Thursday, Perrault said he agreed with the notion that a person who wants to vote in a political party nomination contest should be required first to purchase a party membership using a Canadian-based payment source such as a bank account or credit card.

A report filed with the inquiry by the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections says the office received 201 complaints alleging foreign interference in the 2019 election, including 52 redirected by Elections Canada.

During the 2021 election, the office received 22 complaints alleging foreign meddling, including six forwarded by Elections Canada.

While some investigations ensued, the office has not laid charges or any other formal measures against foreign individuals or organizations related to meddling from abroad in the last two elections.

In the fall of 2022, in response to media reports, the office received more complaints alleging interference in both elections, the report says. A review is ongoing to determine whether there is “tangible evidence” of a contravention of the Canada Elections Act.

Mylène Gigou, senior director of enforcement for the office, told the inquiry that from 2018 through this year, CSIS had provided briefings and the opportunity to review material about threats to elections.

“None of the information that I received was specifically actionable in an investigation, and the information that was shared, was shared for intelligence purposes,” she said.

The inquiry, led by Quebec judge Marie-Josée Hogue, expects to hear evidence from more than 40 people, including Trudeau, members of his cabinet and political party representatives.

An initial report of findings from the commission is due May 3.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2024.

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