Canada's opposition steps up push for public inquiry on Chinese meddling
By Steve Scherer and Susan Heavey
OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canadian opposition parties on Wednesday stepped up their push for a broad public inquiry into alleged foreign election interference, particularly by China, a move that Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not yet endorsed.
Recent media reports have alleged ongoing Chinese interference in Canada's elections, with Trudeau this week denying one article saying his office was told by Canada's spy agency to drop a Chinese Canadian candidate in 2019 because of his ties to Beijing.
Canada's main opposition party called for an independent and public inquiry, headed by a commissioner who is selected with unanimous agreement of all federal parties in the parliament.
"We want to know exactly what the Chinese authoritarian government did, and whether there were political parties aware of those actions or not," Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre told reporters in Ottawa.
New Democrats put forward a motion for a "full public inquiry" during a parliamentary committee collecting testimony on Wednesday from spy agencies and other security officials about possible Chinese meddling.
The New Democrats have been supporting Trudeau's minority government.
The prime minister has acknowledged attempts by China to interfere in elections, but he has resisted calls for a broad public inquiry, saying the outcome of both the 2019 and 2021 votes were not altered.
Asked whether he would support a public inquiry again on Wednesday, Trudeau did not respond.
He said the government would continue to do "what is necessary" to "safeguard our democracy and our elections."
The Chinese embassy in Ottawa denied any election interference. "We are not interested in meddling with Canada's internal affairs, nor have we ever tried to do so," the embassy said in an email.
Canada's national security adviser, Jody Thomas, told the parliamentary committee that China was the greatest "foreign interference threat to Canada," but she cautioned that a public inquiry would not necessarily yield more information.
"A public inquiry will have the same limitations that this committee does, in that we cannot talk about national security information in a public forum," Thomas said.
The media reports have contributed to rekindling tensions between Canada and China. They had improved somewhat after Beijing released two Canadian men in 2021 who had been detained.
Canada this week banned the use of the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok on government-issued devices, citing privacy and security risks. And a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over the United States and Canada before being shot down last month.
A majority of Canadians want Trudeau to respond more forcefully to alleged election interference by China, according to a poll published on Wednesday.
Some 53% of respondents said they felt Canada's response following a string of recent events was "not strong enough," polling firm Angus Reid Institute said.
"Canadians are indicating that they expect their government to take this seriously," said Shachi Kurl, president of the institute.
Some 65% of Canadians said they believe the Chinese government "definitely" or "probably" tried to interfere in the 2021 vote, according to the survey.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Susan Heavey in Washington, additional reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa and Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Sharon Singleton, Nick Macfie and Bill Berkrot)