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Interference by Chinese and Indian agencies in Canadian polls is a hot issue now

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An Inquiry Commission is examining evidences on foreign role in earlier elections

By Arun Kumar Shrivastav

Canadian Prime Minister Justine Trudeau of the Liberal Party and the opposition leader Pierre Poilievre of the Conservative Party are giving poll speeches and interviews for the Canadian Federal Elections, expected to be held before 20 October 2024. However, the Chinese social media app WeChat has taken center stage. An inquiry commission is examining evidences and hearing government officers and political leaders on foreign interference in Canada's election process.

Monitoring chats on WeChat seems to be becoming too complex for Canadian agencies due to a lack of cooperation from its company, Tencent. WeChat in Canada is mainly used by Canadian citizens of Chinese roots, whose population is about 1.8 million, slightly more than those of Indian roots. , too, has been blamed for trying to influence the Canadian election process, although in a small pocket where Khalistani elements are supposedly active.

Documents from the Foreign Interference Commission reveal Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interference in the 2019 and 2021 Canadian federal elections, according to Canadian media reports. At least 18 candidates were implicated in CCP interference networks, with financial support being provided to candidates and political staffers. Despite receiving intelligence about this interference, senior officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's security advisors, chose not to intervene, believing the elections would remain “free and fair.”

During a hearing on foreign interference in the 2021 election on Friday, Canadian officials highlighted the challenges of monitoring Chinese social media platforms for meddling by state actors. Unlike established platforms like Facebook, where the Canadian government has communication channels, there's no direct contact with Tencent, the owner of the popular WeChat app. Officials also acknowledged a lack of experts who understand how Chinese social media functions and a shortage of tools to comprehensively monitor content on these platforms.

Private messages exchanged on WeChat—commonly used for information sharing—are beyond the scrutiny of the government, according to Gallit Dobner, a senior civil servant involved in monitoring foreign interference during the 2021 election campaign as part of the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections Task Force (SITE).

“The online space is difficult, and Chinese social media is incredibly difficult,” she said, later likening it to a “black box” for the government.

The Justice Marie-Josée Hogue commission, tasked with investigating foreign interference in the previous two elections (2019 and 2022), aims to evaluate the extent of knowledge among security agencies, civil servants, political parties, and leaders regarding state-sponsored meddling. It seeks to understand how this information was handled and identify areas for improvement.

The commission learned that the unit within Global Affairs (Formally, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development) responsible for monitoring online misinformation, known as the Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM), bolstered its Chinese-language capabilities for the 2021 campaign in response to these developments.

Despite observing social media accounts and news websites affiliated with the Chinese government disseminating misinformation, including discouraging support for then-Conservative leader Erin O'Toole and Conservative candidate Kenny Chiu, the RRM was unable to definitively attribute responsibility to the Chinese government itself.

Following the election, O'Toole's campaign staff submitted their own dossier to security officials, detailing incidents observed in 13 ridings, including Chinese-language billboards, intimidation tactics, and social media posts. This dossier was also provided to the security task force.

Earlier this week, O'Toole informed the inquiry that he suspects the party may have lost up to nine seats due to these incidents. However, he acknowledged that this wouldn't have altered the overall outcome of the election, which resulted in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals retaining a minority government. O'Toole also admitted that his team was ill-prepared for the utilization of Chinese-language social media during the campaign.

“I wish I could have a do over,” he told the commission.

“What I certainly would have done is made sure that we had a much more sophisticated approach to WeChat in particular, but also Mandarin and Cantonese advertising, publications and campaign workers to counter what was a deluge of misinformation against us. We were just not prepared on that platform period.”

The Hogue commission learned that the somewhat insular community centered around WeChat, predominantly used by Chinese speakers, presented a distinct risk compared to English-language fake or provocative content that could potentially gain national traction and significantly affect the campaign.

Canada's population is mixed of several ethnic groups. Canadians top the list with 15.6%, followed closely by English, Irish, Scottish, and French populations. Notably, Chinese and Indian communities make significant contributions, representing 4.7% and 3.7% of the population, respectively.

(IPA Service)

 

 

 

Northlines
Northlines
The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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