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Foreign interference: Too early for conclusions on integrity of last two elections, says MP Chong

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OTTAWA -

Conservative MP Michael Chong is urging a federal inquiry to refrain from making final conclusions about the integrity of the last two general elections, saying it is too early to do so.

The commission of inquiry recently wrapped up hearings on possible foreign interference by China, India, Russia and others in the 2019 and 2021 general elections, with an initial report due May 3.

Chong's written filing, made public Wednesday, was among 18 submissions from the various participants. The submissions distill positions on the evidence heard to date and provide advice to inquiry head Marie-Josee Hogue as she prepares her interim report.

Chong says the commission can now make some general findings, including about possible interference directed at him.

But on the question of election integrity, he says the inquiry needs to hear additional testimony from diaspora communities, whose campaign experiences in 2019 and 2021 could have a significant effect on the commission's conclusions.

The commission should also wait to hear from two intelligence watchdogs, who are undertaking their own reviews with respect to foreign interference in federal electoral processes, Chong says.

A report from the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians was recently submitted to federal ministers. A declassified version is to be tabled in Parliament within 30 sitting days.

The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, an independent, external review body, has also provided a classified report to the government. It is preparing a version to be tabled in Parliament.

It is unclear whether the commission of inquiry has access to the two watchdogs' findings.

The commission's conclusions on the elections, as well as recommendations flowing from the first phase of its work, should be made in its final report, expected by the end of the year, Chong says.

"No recommendations can or should be made in its interim report," his submission says.

Nonetheless, Chong says the commission can and should conclude in its first report that China was the most sophisticated and active foreign interference threat agent in the two elections, and that Beijing's main target for disinformation was the Conservative party.

During 10 days of hearings, the inquiry heard that China and other state actors attempted to interfere, but there was little evidence to indicate whether those efforts were successful.

The New Democratic Party's written submission advocates changes to ensure political parties receive timely intelligence on an ongoing basis about meddling.

The NDP also suggests giving each political party a customized briefing on foreign interference before each general election and byelection.

In its submission to the inquiry, the federal government contends Canada was well-positioned to detect foreign interference activities in the 2019 and 2021 elections and to act as needed.

None of these activities "threatened the integrity or impacted the outcome of those elections, whether nationally or at the riding level," the submission says.

Awareness of the risk from threat actors was built through timely communications between the government and elected officials, political parties, diaspora community members and the broader public, the government adds.

Even so, the federal submission says the government welcomes recommendations to strengthen its mechanisms and responses.

"There is always room for further improvement."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2024.

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