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No need to overturn nomination amid alleged irregularities, Liberal official says

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The director of the Liberal election campaign in 2019 says he recommended Justin Trudeau take no action on alleged nomination irregularities in a Toronto riding.

Jeremy Broadhurst's testimony Tuesday at a federal inquiry shed fresh light on suggestions of Chinese interference in the selection of Han Dong as the Liberal nominee in Don Valley North five years ago.

Dong left the Liberal caucus following media reports about allegations he willingly participated in Chinese meddling and won his seat in 2019 with Beijing's help — accusations he denies.

Broadhurst described Tuesday how intelligence officials briefed Liberal party representatives in 2019 about the alleged irregularities, prompting him to pass the information on to the prime minister.

A summary of unconfirmed government intelligence presented to the inquiry last week said Chinese international students with fake addresses had been bused into the riding and coerced to vote for Dong's nomination to avoid losing their student visas.

"We talked to the experienced Liberal party volunteer who ran the meeting to see if there was anything out of the usual," Broadhurst recalled Tuesday. "It was a hotly contested nomination, it was busy. But there was nothing that stood out as abnormal."

In addition, he said, the intelligence officials did not recommend that the party take any measures as a result of the information.

"Hundreds of people had come up to express their democratic will," said Broadhurst, adding he thought the bar for overturning the result "should be extremely high."

He said he recommended to Trudeau "that no action be taken," and the prime minister "decided at that time that there was there was no action for him to take."

The hearings are part of the commission of inquiry's examination of possible foreign interference by China, India, Russia and others in the last two general elections.

Trudeau's deputy chief of staff, Brian Clow, told the commission he advocated for the public release of a classified document that he believed would clear Dong's name in relation to a separate allegation.

Dong has been accused of advocating against the immediate release of two Canadians detained in China — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — during a 2021 phone call he had with a Chinese consular official.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service ultimately opted not to release a summary of the call, which Clow said he felt would exonerate Dong.

"If a document is leaked to the media, it appears in the news, that can't be the last word," Clow testified Tuesday.

"There should be a way to get more facts out so a person can defend themselves and so Canadians can know the truth."

Dong told the commission last week he didn't recall the conversation but said he always advocated for the early release of the "two Michaels."

An initial report of findings from the commission is due May 3.

The inquiry will then shift to broader policy issues, looking at the government's ability to detect, deter and counter foreign interference. A final report is expected by the end of the year.

While foreign meddling may take place during Canadian elections, that doesn't mean it works — a distinction the prime minister's national security adviser tried to make clear Tuesday at the inquiry.

A 2023 CSIS memo tabled at the inquiry this week says state actors can interfere successfully in Canada because there are few legal or political consequences.

Foreign interference "is therefore low-risk and high-reward," the service concludes in the heavily redacted document.

 

National security and intelligence adviser Nathalie Drouin took issue with the service's characterization of the interference as successful, saying Canadians might mistakenly think foreign actors had an impact on Canada's election results.

"We should not confuse the two," she testified before the commission Tuesday. Drouin is also deputy clerk of the Privy Council, a position she held during the last general election.

"I think we have said, and we repeat, that (foreign interference) exists in Canada, and we have said also that we haven't seen that those attempts and activities … had an impact in the two elections."

The CSIS document was prepared as part of a briefing for the prime minister in response to media reports containing leaked intelligence about possible foreign meddling. Those media reports set off a groundswell of support for an inquiry into the integrity of Canadian elections.

The document asserted that China "clandestinely and deceptively" interfered in both the 2019 and 2021 general elections.

It said Chinese activities in the two contests were focused largely on supporting those seen as pro-China or neutral on issues of interest to Beijing.

Officials who work in the Prime Minister's Office said many of the sentiments outlined in the briefing note were not relayed to them or the prime minister.

"Particularly the very stark conclusions at the bottom of the document," Clow said.

Senior bureaucrats did not find the activities in either election were serious enough to warrant notifying the public under a special protocol.

In private testimony last month to the commission, former Privy Council clerk Janice Charette spoke of a foreign interference concern that occurred during the 2021 election.

A public summary of the testimony, made public Tuesday, does not identify the concern.

The panel of five bureaucrats responsible for monitoring the election found it did not meet the threshold for a public announcement, but believed "that some mitigation was necessary," the summary states.

In her capacity as clerk, Charette asked CSIS director David Vigneault "to come back to her with options and advice about what, if anything, could be done," the summary adds.

"Ms. Charette and the CSIS director agreed upon a way forward to address the concern," which was not raised directly with Trudeau at the time.

Charette testified Tuesday that she and Vigneault agreed to brief the Liberal party on a matter related to foreign interference during the election — though she did not clarify if it was the same incident.

The prime minister is expected to appear at the inquiry Wednesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2024. 

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