Posted on October 21, 2010

Memo Names Politicians Feared Under Foreign Influence

Joanna Smith, Toronto Star, October 15, 2010

The Canadian spy chief has told the federal public safety minister who the intelligence agency suspects is being unduly influenced by foreign agents, according to a top-secret memo obtained by the Star.

The undated, draft memo from Richard Fadden to Vic Toews is heavily redacted, but shows he made good on his pledge to inform the minister about his specific concerns after he first shook the country by divulging those concerns in a speech and nationally televised interview.

Fadden made waves this summer when he said that foreign governments–including China–have been infiltrating ethnic communities and trying to influence politicians at all levels of government.

A spokesperson for Toews would not say what, if anything, the minister did after receiving the four-page memo, citing national security.

Fadden even went so far as to say that CSIS was particularly worried about two cabinet ministers in two unnamed provinces and several municipal politicians in British Columbia, but noted they were unaware of what was happening.

Those vague allegations had opposition critics calling for his resignation for smearing all politicians without giving the unnamed targets the opportunity to defend themselves, and the Chinese-Canadian community reacted strongly to the suggestion that ties to the homeland could mean they were not to be trusted.

Fadden was called before the Commons public safety committee to be grilled by MPs on just what–and who–he was talking about and whether he had kept the Conservative government in the loop.

Fadden told the committee that he had not informed Toews about the two specific cases involving provincial cabinet ministers before he mentioned them publicly in a speech to the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto in March and to the CBC because CSIS had “further analysis to do” before taking it up the chain of command.

Fadden said he would provide Toews with a briefing note on the specific cases within four weeks of his July 5 committee appearance, where he also said he regretted making the allegations public.

The four-page document obtained by the Star reiterates concerns CSIS has about foreign governments and agencies trying to “clandestinely influence Canadian politicians and policy at the federal, provincial and municipal levels.”

It also refers to “the two cases of foreign interference involving provincial politicians to which (Fadden) made reference to in (his) June 22nd interview” with the CBC, but details were blanked out under provisions in freedom-of-information law that allow personal information and anything involving the “detection, prevention or suppression of subversive or hostile activities” to be kept under wraps.

Toews was unavailable for an interview on Thursday.

His spokesman Mike Patton refused to discuss any of the censored parts of the document, or even acknowledge that it would contain specific details about the two cases–or name any names–despite that being the reason the memo was created.

In a follow-up email, Patton declined to comment on what Toews might do with the information now that he has it.

“All I am permitted to say is: if the minister directed any action as a result of the meeting with Mr. Fadden or intends to direct any action in the future, it would be a matter relating to national security and we would not be in a position to comment,” Patton wrote.

Patton also said he could not comment on when Toews received the briefing.

The document elaborates on the earlier remarks by painting a picture of foreign entities hard at work keeping tabs on ethnic communities, elected officials, public servants and political candidates.

The goal, Fadden wrote, is to interfere in the Canadian political process in order to influence federal government policies in their favour and obtain sensitive information and even technology.

The methods are varied, Fadden explained, but include intelligence-gathering operations, trying to control ethnic communities, targeting and recruiting federal government employees in order to obtain “classified information related to Canadian public policy or sensitive technology” and building relationships with politicians by giving them support that they hope will turn into “a favourable disposition towards their interests.”

Fadden warned that it can be challenging for CSIS to tell the difference between “legitimate lobbying” and more nefarious activities when it comes to dealing with foreign entities.

“Active and transparent political lobbying by diplomatic officials in Canada to promote policies favourable to their country is a normative aspect of bilateral relations,” Fadden wrote in the memo. “However, the Canadian political process and Canadian government institutions have been subjected to covert and unwarranted influence.”

A spokeswoman for CSIS did not return requests for comment, so it is unclear whether there were any changes to the draft version of the memo before it was submitted.

Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland said it is time for the specific allegations to be aired so the individuals and communities involved can defend themselves.

“To be in this netherworld where there are serious allegations hanging out there with no specificity to them, this cloud hangs over the entire community and they feel like second-class citizens,” Holland said. “And that’s wrong.”

New Democrat public safety critic Don Davies said there is a difference between CSIS expressing concern about foreign influence in a general way and suggesting an identifiable group is being targeted.

“If he would have gone on TV and said ‘Look, there are a lot of nations in this world who are doing whatever they can to get an edge and try to influence our policies and they use a myriad of different ways of doing this, from campus clubs to events to influencing politicians’ that’s fine,” said Davies. “When you accuse identifiable groups and people without backing it up with evidence, now you’re crossing over into something of an entirely different nature.”

Marie-Lucie Morin, the national security adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was copied on the memo, but the Privy Council Office referred all questions to Public Safety.

So did Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas, who asked to receive a copy of the memo but declined an interview request after it was faxed to his office.

Both Morin and Toews have been invited to appear before the committee this month.