Source: Facebook

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had been made aware of foreign election interference via briefings in the lead-up to the 2019 election, CSIS officials testified during the foreign interference commission. 

A witness testified on Monday that as of “late September/early October 2019,” Trudeau was aware of allegations relating to election interference in the Don Valley North riding in Toronto, won by former Liberal MP Han Dong.

The 2019 federal election took place on Oct. 21. CSIS’s testimony called into question some of Trudeau’s past statements about how much prior knowledge he had of the foreign interference scheme targeting Canada’s elections. 

According to Global News, CSIS intelligence officials knew Chinese international students were being bussed from a private secondary school to the Don Valley North riding to vote in Dong’s nomination contest.  

Witnesses testifying before the commission “were referred to a document that lists briefings the PM received in relation to allegations of FI [foreign interference] in the Don Valley North riding during the nomination campaign,” reads the document.

However, the Privy Council’s records appear to be incomplete and the briefings were “not reflected in the PCO IR (Privy Council Institutional Report).”

CSIS did not allege that Dong himself was aware of China’s alleged efforts to interfere in his nomination but in a separate interview summary, they said that he was made aware of “irregularities” in the Don Valley North riding.

Trudeau’s current national security and intelligence adviser Nathalie Drouin, testified that students being bussed did corroborate with the knowledge they had in 2019 but didn’t meet the threshold for informing the public. 

“All the other elements were not corroborated,” said Drouin.

In both interview summaries which involved discussions not disclosed to the public, as well as top-secret information, Dong is not mentioned by name.  

Trudeau will testify at the inquiry on Wednesday.

The prime minister was asked whether or not he’d been briefed on the possible interference in Dong’s riding during a news conference in February 2023 but he evaded the question, instead pivoting reporter’s concerns towards anti-Asian racism. 

“Once again, one of the things we’ve seen unfortunately over the past years is a rise in anti-Asian racism linked to the pandemic and concerns around people’s loyalties,” said Trudeau at the time. 

“I want to make everyone understand fully, Han Dong is an outstanding member of our team, and suggestions that he is not loyal to Canada should not be entertained.”

Trudeau continued to skirt questions regarding whether his views on Dong had changed since the inquiry last week, nor would he confirm if Dong would be allowed back into the Liberal Caucus as Dong has expressed his desire for a return. 

He resigned from the Liberal caucus in 2023 and became an Independent. 

During his testimony last week, Dong said that he was “reminded” by his wife of students being bussed into the Don Valley North riding however he hadn’t previously told the commission of having that knowledge in his initial interview. 

However, a CSIS intelligence summary presented to the inquiry suggested that these students, who likely did not live in Don Valley North, had been provided with fake identification, and were coerced into voting.

“Some intelligence reporting also indicated that the students were provided with falsified documents to allow them to vote, despite not being residents of DVN (Don Valley North). The documents were provided by individuals associated with a known proxy agent,” reads the summary.

“Intelligence reported after the election indicated that veiled threats were issued by the PRC Consulate to the Chinese international students, implying their visas would be in jeopardy and that there could be consequences for their families back in the PRC if they did not support Han Dong.”

Dong’s defence was that while he was aware of the bus of students, he was under the impression that the trip had been organized by the secondary school itself and not by any foreign actors. 

“I didn’t pay attention to busing international students because… I didn’t understand it as an irregularity,” said Dong, who also denied having any knowledge that the students had falsified documents. 

“I would be the first one condemning it. I think it’s an insult to our democratic system,” he said.