China tried to meddle but Canadians decided the last two elections, says PM Trudeau

By Thomson Reuters Apr 10, 2024 | 6:21 PM

OTTAWA (Reuters) – China tried to meddle in the last two Canadian elections but the results were not impacted and it was “improbable” Beijing preferred any one party over another, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told an official probe on Wednesday.

In sworn testimony before a commission conducting a public inquiry into alleged foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 Canadian elections, Trudeau answered questions about intelligence briefings he had received and asserted the elections were “free and fair.”

Trudeau set up the commission last year under pressure from opposition legislators unhappy about media reports on China’s possible role in the elections.

Erin O’Toole, who led the main opposition Conservative party during the 2021 campaign, has estimated Chinese interference cost his party up to nine seats but added it had not changed the course of the election. Trudeau’s Liberal Party won both the elections.

“Nothing we have seen and heard despite, yes, attempts by foreign states to interfere, those elections held in their integrity. They were decided by Canadians,” he said.

Asked about an intelligence report about Chinese officials in Canada expressing a preference in 2021 for a Liberal minority government due to the perception that minority governments would be more limited in enacting anti-China policies, Trudeau said the report had not reached him.

“While individual (Chinese) officials may well have expressed a preference or another, the impression we got and consistently would get is that … it just would seem very improbable that the Chinese government itself would have a preference in the election,” Trudeau said.

On Monday, Canada’s domestic spy agency told the commission that China “clandestinely and deceptively interfered” in both the elections, the firmest evidence so far of suspected Chinese meddling in Canadian politics.

The Chinese embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Beijing has previously denied all allegations of meddling in Canadian affairs and said it had no interest in doing so.

The elections were conducted amid high tensions between the countries over the arrest of an executive of the Chinese company Huawei Technologies in Canada, followed by the arrest of two Canadians on spying charges in China. All three were freed in 2021.

The commission will complete an initial report by May 3 and deliver its final report by end-2024.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Chris Reese)