Trudeau orders new probes into alleged election interference by China
OTTAWA, March 6 (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday he will appoint an independent special investigator to probe alleged election interference by China and also announced separate new probes into the suspected foreign meddling.
Canadian media have recently published detailed reports, citing anonymous intelligence sources, alleging schemes run by China to interfere in Canada's elections in 2021 and 2019.
Trudeau has come under scrutiny ever since those media reports came out and a recent poll showed a majority of Canadians wanted him to respond more forcefully to alleged election interference by China.
"I will be appointing an independent special rapporteur, who will have a wide mandate and make expert recommendations on combating interference and strengthening our democracy," Trudeau told reporters in a press briefing.
The rapporteur will be an "eminent Canadian" and will have power to make recommendations on foreign interference including a public inquiry, Trudeau said.
The prime minister also said he asked lawmakers in the parliament's national security committee to launch an investigation into the alleged foreign election interference.
China denies all allegations of interference, saying it has no interest in meddling with Canada's internal affairs.
Canada's National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), an intelligence watchdog, will investigate and report its findings to the parliament.
Trudeau added he will ask another oversight agency, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA), to review how national security agencies in Canada handled the foreign interference threat.
"Together, these measures will give us a better understanding of what happened in the last two elections, how foreign governments tried to interfere, how security agencies in Canada responded to the threat of interference and how the information flowed across government," the prime minister said.
Trudeau and Canada's top security officials have acknowledged interference attempts by China, but they insist that election outcomes were not altered. They have not confirmed the media reports.
The Globe and Mail reported last month, citing intelligence sources, that China preferred the Liberal Party's government retaining power in 2021 over a Conservative Party win.
Despite sparring with Chinese President Xi Jinping over many issues, the Liberal government is seen as open to doing business with China, while the Conservatives are known to take a more hard-line stance against Beijing.
The accusations about covert Chinese schemes to meddle in Canadian affairs have added another layer of complexity to strained diplomatic relations between Canada and China.
Tensions between the countries mounted in late 2018 when Canadian police detained an executive of Chinese technology company Huawei Technologies and then Beijing arrested two Canadians on spying charges. All three were freed in 2021.
Earlier on Monday, Canadian police said they were investigating the media reports that cited secret intelligence for potential violations of information security laws.
Canada's Deputy Public Safety Minister Shawn Tupper told a parliamentary committee last week Canadian police were not investigating any of the allegations of Chinese influence. The police's statement on Monday indicated its investigation is targeted only on the information leaks.
Canada's spy agency is also conducting a probe of how classified information was leaked to news organizations.
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