A 2021 intelligence briefing at the centre of the latest foreign interference controversy included “non-specific threat information relating to MPs,” the Privy Council Office says.
The intelligence briefing, compiled by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), was circulated to the Privy Council Office (PCO) as well as other “national security departments,” PCO told Global News in a statement.
But PCO, the central federal department that supports Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said the “information was not raised with ministers or the prime minister.”
It’s not clear which MPs were subject to those “non-specific” threats from foreign powers, or if the MPs were named in the CSIS document. Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino refused to name which MPs were believed to have been targeted, citing federal secrecy rules.
“The intelligence community has now been given new direction … for flagging threats regarding MPs and their families, including non-specific threats, to senior public servants and ministers,” a PCO spokesperson said in response to Global’s questions Wednesday.
“Work is underway to implement these changes.”
Trudeau faces criticism for conflicting CSIS info
The House of Commons voted unanimously Wednesday to open a probe into allegations that members of Conservative MP Michael Chong’s family were targeted by Beijing for “potential sanctions.” The allegations were first reported by the Globe and Mail, citing the 2021 CSIS document and unnamed national security sources.
After the Globe’s story, Trudeau told reporters on May 3 that he first heard about the allegations through the newspaper and suggested CSIS did not sufficiently circulate the intelligence amongst senior officials.
Chong subsequently told the House of Commons that Jody Thomas, Trudeau’s national security and intelligence adviser (NSIA), told him that the intelligence had been shared with her office. The NSIA is a senior official within Canada’s intelligence community, who works within PCO and reports to the prime minister.
Trudeau later told reporters that he “shared the best information I had at the time.”
Further complicating the matter is that Global News reported on Tuesday that none of the three officials who held the title of NSIA in 2021 — Vincent Rigby, David Morrison and Mike MacDonald — recalled seeing intelligence about threats to MPs during that period.
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“None of the three individuals who shared the duties of NSIA in summer of 2021 recall having seen any material about threats to MPs during this period,” PCO confirmed in a statement to Global News.
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The issue of foreign interference in Canadian affairs — and specifically operations allegedly run by China’s state security services — has grown into a political headache for the governing Liberals, after months of exclusive reporting from Global News and the Globe and Mail.
Trudeau initially resisted calling a public inquiry into allegations Beijing was running vast and sophisticated interference operations, but eventually appointed former governor general David Johnston to determine if an inquiry was required. Johnston’s decision is expected later this month.
But the partisanship that has taken over the discussion was on full display Thursday, when Jenni Byrne — a senior adviser to Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and former deputy chief of staff to Stephen Harper — testified at the House of Commons committee probing the issue. Byrne told the committee she was never briefed on foreign interference issues during her time in Harper’s office between 2013 and 2014.
In a series of tense exchanges with Liberal and NDP MPs, Byrne accused the Liberals of failing to take foreign interference seriously. Ryan Turnbull, a Liberal MP on the committee, listed a series of eight measures the government has taken since 2015 on national security and foreign influence issues.
“Can you name eight from the Harper era?,” Turnbull asked.
“Regardless of the eight things you have named, we are still sitting here with the fact that for the last two elections, knowingly your government ignored advice from officials in terms of foreign interference,” Byrne shot back.
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