May 25th, 2024

RCMP still probing alleged meddling in federal elections, but offer few details

By Jim Bronskill and Laura Osman, The Canadian Press on April 4, 2024.

RCMP Commissioner Michael Duheme appears as a witness at the Public Inquiry Into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions in Ottawa on Thursday, April 4, 2024. Duheme says the Mounties did not open any foreign interference-related criminal investigations during Canada's last two federal elections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA – RCMP commissioner Mike Duheme says the police force has several open investigations into possible foreign interference in the last two general elections – probes that began only after the votes were counted.

Duheme declined to elaborate Thursday on the number or nature of the probes, citing the integrity of the investigations, privacy concerns and public safety.

“We don’t comment on ongoing investigations,” Duheme said after appearing at a federal commission of inquiry into foreign interference.

The hearings are part of the inquiry’s examination of possible meddling by China, India, Russia and others in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

Deputy RCMP commissioner Mark Flynn provided few other details about the ongoing probes, but indicated to reporters that some of the leads emerged through individuals “speaking about their own experiences very publicly,” including in the House of Commons.

Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, Conservative MP Michael Chong and New Democrat MP Jenny Kwan have all been identified publicly as possible targets of foreign interference by China.

In a classified February interview with the inquiry, Duheme said the RCMP did not open any foreign interference-related criminal investigations during the last two general elections.

A public summary of the interview, tabled Thursday at the inquiry, reveals that Duheme also said none of the force’s partners referred intelligence to the Mounties that would have warranted such criminal investigations.

However, after the 2021 general election, the Mounties did begin investigations, including one prompted by Chong’s public statement about being a target of meddling.

Flynn said Thursday that while the force’s investigation of that incident “has concluded, the broad understanding of the problem and our efforts to combat the broad public safety threat that this represents is ongoing.”

Added Duheme: “If there’s information that comes up that says that we should be reopening a file, we reopen it and continue the investigation.”

A former deputy minister of foreign affairs told the inquiry in a classified interview that Canada’s security and intelligence community has been closely monitoring attempted meddling by China.

But Marta Morgan said such activity did not reach the threshold for taking diplomatic measures against Chinese officials in relation to the 2019 and 2021 general elections.

Morgan, who was deputy minister from May 2019 until October 2022, made the comments in a February interview with the inquiry, according to a newly tabled public summary.

The summary says during the electoral writ periods, Global Affairs Canada did not consider diplomatic measures against China, as none of the intelligence triggered specific concerns.

Individual political candidates have told the inquiry they were angry to learn only after both election campaigns that officials had been monitoring activity suspected of being linked to foreign states.

Intelligence leaders insist both the 2019 and 2021 elections were conducted freely and fairly, but the Conservatives say more attention should have been paid to concerning activity detected within specific ridings.

The Communications Security Establishment, which monitors foreign signals intelligence, was alert to potential threats during both of the last two elections, said Dan Rogers, a former senior official with the agency.

The most significant piece of intelligence gathered during that period emerged after the 2021 election and involved allegations about the potential distribution of funds, he testified Thursday.

Rogers declined to share any details because of national security concerns. The information was passed on to Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP, but he doesn’t know what became of it after that.

He told the commission the CSE didn’t detect any state-backed disinformation campaigns from Russia during the last two elections.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2024.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version erroneously identified Dan Rogers, currently deputy national security and intelligence adviser to the prime minister, as the deputy head of the Communications Security Establishment.

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