China’s ability to interfere with Canadian elections is largely enabled by its clandestine “takeover” of Chinese-language outlets as well as its influence on legacy media here at home.
Newly released CSIS documents reveal that China has been providing substantial funding to “key media entities” in Canada in order to get more favourable coverage.
China’s influence over the media was reported by The Bureau – an independent media outlet launched by former Global News investigative reporter Sam Cooper who first revealed that China had interfered in Canada’s elections earlier this year.
The documents also say that Beijing has offered benefits to Vancouver’s Chinese Consulate to supplant “key editors, producers and high-ranking managers.” Some journalists have even allegedly been threatened during these various covert operations.
The overarching objective of these operations is the election of politicians who are sympathetic to the interests of the Chinese Communist Party while also subverting Canadian democracy, The Bureau claims.
One example of this was when a senior Chinese Consular official in Toronto summoned a number of Chinese-language reporters together and allegedly told them to privately support a certain politician that the CCP wanted to gain influence in the federal government. The alleged incident was confirmed by one Chinese-language journalist who wishes to remain anonymous due to security concerns for him and his family.
Victor Ho, a former Vancouver-based newspaper editor, has come out in public to confirm the validity of CSIS’s allegations following his review of their documents. When Ho was asked whether the CCP was quietly funding election interference networks throughout Canada to bolster Beijing’s favoured candidates, Ho replied, “That is exactly the case.”
“The CCP weaponizes the Chinese media to gain election intervention,” Ho told The Bureau. “To do this, the Chinese Consulates in Canada make every effort to influence the top Chinese editing teams in Canada.”
China’s election interference isn’t solely at the federal level but also at the provincial and municipal levels as well, according to a CSIS intelligence assessment conducted in 2022.
Controlling the media is the main source of creating interference, claimed one document, stating “traditional and online media outlets play an important role during election periods, offering a curated communications channel between political campaigns and the general public.” The CCP uses election coverage, “to manipulate and influence key media entities, control narratives, and disseminate disinformation.”
The increasing number of Chinese migrants in Canada helps to facilitate the CCP infiltration of media outlets.
“In Canada, a PRC ‘takeover’ of Chinese-language media has transpired over decades, derivative of the proportion of PRC-origin individuals increasing in Canada’s Chinese communities,” stated the CSIS document, “and as the PRC devotes more resources to, in President Xi Jinping’s words, ‘Telling China’s story well.’”
In 2022, the CSIS document entitled “Canadian Eyes Only” revealed that, “almost all Chinese media outlets are controlled by local media associations and essentially say the same thing.” The document went on to say that in the Greater Toronto Area, “30 to 40 people in Chinese media circles meet regularly to come to a consensus regarding what or how an item will be published.”
“These individuals act as gatekeepers to ensure whatever is reported in Chinese-language media adheres to pro-PRC narratives.” stated the report.
If an article is published that “casts a negative light on a Chinese company,” reporters are contacted and the article is then deleted in some cases, according to the CSIS report. This is destroying the freedom of the press, “a value enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Right.” it stated.
The CCP is moving away from censorship within its own borders to influencing international coverage as part of the regime’s belief that, “control and oversight of media [is] crucial for the maintenance of one party rule in China.”
One example of this was the media’s handling of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s detention in Canada. In 2019, Liberal cabinet minister John McCallum held press conferences to defend Wanzhou, calling her detention illegal. McCallum was ambassador to China at the time before resigning following criticism from Conservative opposition for his stance.
Charles Burton, an expert in Chinese-Canadian relations said that he felt the story received a considerable amount of coverage at the time, noting that, “Canadian elite figures that urged Canada to repatriate Meng Wanzhou, did get a lot of play in the Canadian media, and I guess added credibility to the Chinese arguments,” said Burton in an interview with The Bureau.
Burton believes that incentives are provided by the CCP to entice, “People of influence, such as those that have control over editorial policies in newspapers, can have the anticipation of future benefits,” said Burton. “And with this sort of PRC cultivation, we already have so many examples of people that were not active in criticizing China in the House of Commons, that seem to get law firm or board opportunities with firms that have relations with China.”