Canada's former Conservative Party leader, Erin O'Toole, and Hong Kong-born Canadian lawmaker Jenny Kwan have accused China of engaging in a misinformation campaign and voter suppression during the 2021 election. Intelligence from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) reportedly revealed multiple threats against O'Toole and Kwan, prompting concerns about foreign interference. This article examines the alleged targeting of these politicians, explores their reasons for being singled out, and highlights the broader context of strained relations between Canada and China.
Chinese Misinformation Campaign Against Erin O'Toole
During the 2021 general election, Erin O'Toole, a Member of Parliament and former Conservative Party leader, claims to have been the target of a Chinese misinformation campaign. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) reportedly provided intelligence to O'Toole, revealing threats aimed at discrediting him and spreading false narratives about his policies. These alleged efforts were intended to obstruct his work as a parliamentarian and leader of the official opposition.
Jenny Kwan, a New Democrat Member of Parliament, has also reported being targeted within a foreign interference campaign. Kwan attributes this targeting to her human rights activism, particularly her vocal stance on the rights of Hong Kong residents and the treatment of China's Uyghur Muslim minority population. In the wake of Beijing's imposition of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, Kwan's advocacy work drew attention and made her a subject of foreign interference.
Strained Canada-China Relations and Rising Concerns
The allegations of Chinese interference come at a time when Canada-China relations have deteriorated significantly. Concerns about Chinese influence have been on the rise, with issues such as the operation of overseas police stations and policing of speech in Canada drawing attention. The presence of a substantial Chinese heritage community in Canada adds complexity to the situation.
Tensions between the two countries escalated when Canada expelled an accredited Chinese diplomat for alleged involvement in a harassment campaign against opposition lawmaker Michael Chong and his relatives. The expulsion was in response to Chong sponsoring a motion condemning China's treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority group. In a tit-for-tat move, China retaliated by expelling a Canadian diplomat.
Possible Motives Behind Targeting Erin O'Toole
Erin O'Toole believes that Beijing's targeting of him stems from his opposition to the use of Huawei technology in Canada's 5G network and his vocal criticism of human rights abuses in China. O'Toole's strong stance on these issues has seemingly made him a priority target for the Chinese government, leading to concerns about foreign interference in Canadian politics.
Both O'Toole and Chong have criticized the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for what they perceive as a slow response to intelligence about foreign interference. Canadian Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has acknowledged the need for reforms and proactive engagement with federal parliamentarians. The government is implementing measures such as the creation of a national coordinator to combat foreign interference and the establishment of a foreign agent registry.