An official commission is about to get underway in Ottawa as Canada tries to determine to what extent China and other countries interfered in its last two elections. The investigation also will examine whether Russia and India interfered as well. All three countries have denied the allegations.
Justice Marie-Josee Hogue will oversee the commission, which is the latest attempt to find out how countries — predominately China, Russia and India — may have sought to influence Canada's most recent federal elections.
After a much-criticized report by a former governor-general, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the public inquiry last year in the face of intense pressure from across the political spectrum.
Kenny Chiu is the former Conservative Party member of parliament, or MP, for Steveston-Richmond-East in suburban Vancouver. He is one of the politicians who said he has been told by Canada's spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, that misinformation campaigns were used to undermine elected officials like him.
In the 2019 campaign, which Chiu won, he found people were quite welcoming and engaged him in conversation. Not so in 2021, when he was defeated by the Liberal Party candidate, currently the constituency's MP.
The 2021 contest saw the Liberal Party improve its numbers in the district by roughly 1,800 votes compared with 2019. Votes for Chiu, on the other hand, dropped by more than 4,400.
Chiu said he has been asked by one of the groups that have intervenor status to appear in front of the commission but does not know when that might happen.
"I have no information whatsoever. In fact, it was just a verbal inquiry, whether I am willing to stand as a witness," said Chiu. "My understanding is, it's not a matter of [if] I agree or not. If the commissioner has approved their request to have me as a witness, then I will have to."
Political strategist Mark Marissen, who has worked on Liberal Party campaigns going back decades, said he worried about the impact on politicians who might have unknowingly been supported in their campaigns by foreign governments.
"I think the biggest concern I would have is people trying to weaponize the inquiry into making certain politicians or others responsible for things that they had nothing to do with," said Marissen. "I think that some of these MPs may very well have been supported by China or India, without them even knowing what was happening."
University of British Columbia political scientist Stewart Prest said for the inquiry to be successful, it should seek to reduce any racial stigma facing the country's Chinese and South Asian communities because of the charges of foreign interference.
"At once we have concern that there are actions to interfere with Canadian politics, orchestrated by foreign powers," Prest said. "But on the other side, we have concerns expressed by Canadians that perhaps there are members of our society that are under the influence of a foreign actor and therefore should be less trusted. And I think that's a really corrosive, poisonous place for society to be for any length of time."
The commission is instructed to generate an interim report by May 3 and a final report by the end of 2024.
Canada's next federal election must come no later than October 20, 2025, although it could come sooner if Trudeau's Liberal government is defeated on any important legislation or loses the confidence of the House of Commons.