The RCMP is not investigating any allegations of foreign interference concerning the last general election, the federal deputy minister of public safety told a parliamentary committee Wednesday.
Shawn Tupper was appearing at the committee on procedure and House affairs, which is looking into accusations of Chinese meddling in the 2019 and 2021 elections.
The Liberal government has come under pressure in recent weeks to explain what Canada is doing about accusations of Chinese interference in the elections following leaks to the media from unnamed security sources.
The Globe and Mail newspaper, citing classified Canadian Security Intelligence Service records, recently said China worked to help ensure a Liberal minority victory in the 2021 general election as well as defeat Conservative politicians considered unfriendly to Beijing.
The Globe said the spy service quoted one Chinese diplomat as saying Beijing likes it when Canadian political parties are fighting with each other, whereas if one has a majority, the party in power can easily implement policies that do not favour China.
The newspaper also said that, according to CSIS, Chinese diplomats are behind undeclared cash donations to campaigns, and have business owners hire international Chinese students and assign them to volunteer in election campaigns.
A recent Global News report cited anonymous sources alleging CSIS had urged senior Liberal party staff to rescind Han Dong's nomination in a Toronto riding in 2019, but that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved his candidacy.
Dong, who won the riding for the Liberals in 2019 and 2021, said his nomination and campaign teams have found no indication of irregularities or compliance issues regarding his candidacy or election.
Tupper told MPs on the committee Wednesday that "the RCMP is not investigating any of the allegations that are arising from the last election."
National security adviser Jody Thomas, who appeared alongside Tupper, said it's very important to reassure Canadians "that the last two federal elections were fair and legitimate."
Canadians have questions about foreign interference attempts and officials will try to answer them in the most transparent way possible, within the limits of the law, Thomas said. "We as national security officials have a duty to protect classified information."
The Conservative party, NDP and Bloc Québécois have called for an independent public inquiry into the allegations of foreign interference.
Thomas said the security-and-intelligence community understands the challenge posed by foreign meddling.
"We are taking concrete steps to strengthen our counter-foreign interference approach, including by making sure that those who engage in such activities face consequences."
Under a federal protocol, there would be a public announcement if a panel of senior bureaucrats determined that an incident — or an accumulation of incidents — threatened Canada's ability to have a free and fair election.
There was no such announcement in 2021 or concerning the 2019 election. In both ballots, the Liberals were returned to government with minority mandates while the Conservatives formed the official Opposition.
On Tuesday, a report evaluating the protocol for monitoring the most recent general election said the federal government should explore lowering the threshold for when to notify Canadians about potential interference in a campaign.
The independent report by former public servant Morris Rosenberg nonetheless found that the protocol designed to advise Canadians in the event of threats to the 2021 federal election worked well overall.
But he made several recommendations on better informing Canadians about what the panel would consider cause for concern.
He also urged further study into whether to lower the bar for telling Canadians about potential threats.
Trudeau said Wednesday the government is looking very carefully at Rosenberg's "excellent" recommendations, but rejected calls for a public inquiry because he believes there are already independent mechanisms in place to determine what kinds of foreign interference is happening.
"We've seen over the past number of days and weeks many Canadians are very concerned about the issue of foreign interference into our democracies, into our election processes. We share that concern," Trudeau said, defending his government's record on the issue.
Walied Soliman, a lawyer who worked on the 2021 Conservative election campaign, recently said on social media that the party was never notified about any threats to the electoral process.
Despite this, he said the party saw "clear signs of tampering in ridings with substantial Chinese diasporas'' that were "never taken seriously.''
Soliman said he was appointed by former party leader Erin O'Toole to serve as its representative on the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections Task Force, which provides information to government officials, including the panel of senior bureaucrats tasked with monitoring election campaigns.
He also said the party continued working with the task force after the election, "providing everything we had.''
Thomas told the committee Wednesday that a response was provided to Soliman, adding that nothing was found to suggest "the ridings that he was concerned about were affected by attempts at foreign interference."
However, she noted that additional information had since come to light and that she had asked for it to be reviewed.
Speaking before Wednesday's committee meeting, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said he accepts the results of the 2021 election.
He also called for "a quick, simple, direct process to alert the public and the system if a foreign government is actively interfering in an election or intimidating voters."
China's embassy in Ottawa has rebuffed accusations of attempted election interference in Canada, saying they are "baseless and defamatory" and harm diplomatic relations.
"China has always been firmly against any attempts to interfere in other countries' domestic affairs," the embassy said in an emailed statement.
"We are not interested in meddling with Canada's internal affairs, nor have we ever tried to do so."
The embassy says all its consulates follow the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which includes "a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of the state" where diplomats reside.
The embassy also says it has bilateral agreements with Canada that hold diplomats to behaving "in an open and above-reproach manner" in each other's country.
In the statement, the embassy accused some Canadian agencies, as well as media outlets, of creating and spreading "disinformation" about China and "poisoning the media atmosphere" about the country.
It urged everyone to "stop stigmatizing Chinese consulates and personnel that performed their normal duties."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2023.
— With files from Dylan Robertson, Mickey Djuric, David Fraser and Stephanie Taylor