Elections Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault told MPs on Tuesday that he has not received any reports about China interfering in the 2019 federal election.
Perrault’s comments were made in response to Global News reporting that China allegedly interfered with Canada’s 2019 federal election, partly by funding the campaigns of at least 11 candidates, and that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was briefed about the allegations in January. CTV News has not independently verified Global News’ reporting, which Trudeau has also disputed.
“In my opinion, there’s no reason to believe that it was not a free and fair election,” Perrault told the House of Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee several times during his hour-long appearance on Tuesday.
“I’ve not received any reports regarding specific instances of non-compliance with the legislation or specific instances of Chinese interference in the election,” he also said.
Perrault said he has the utmost respect for the media, but that it would be “premature to draw conclusions” from media reports apart from investigations by the Commissioner of Elections Canada.
In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for the Commissioner of Canada Elections (CCE) Caroline Simard confirmed that her office has received a complaint from the Bloc Québécois related to allegations of foreign interference, and that it reviews all complaints it receives.
“The CCE takes all complaints seriously and, where appropriate, conducts a thorough investigation. It is only at the conclusion of a review or investigation — and only in cases where formal compliance or enforcement action is taken — that limited information is made available to the public and the media,” said spokesperson Myriam Crousette in an email.
Meanwhile, under questioning by reporters, Trudeau pointed to the independent committee in place throughout the 2019 and 2021 federal elections to ensure there was no interference from foreign entities. In both instances, Trudeau said he was assured by that body that “the integrity of our elections was not compromised.”
He also repeated that he was never briefed about China financing Canadian electoral candidates.
“There has never been any information given to me on the funding of federal candidates by China,” he said.
Canada’s relationship with China took center stage last week after a tense exchange between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trudeau at the G20 summit in Bali was caught on video.
In the video, Xi tells Trudeau it was “inappropriate” for him to share with the media what the pair discussed during a private meeting. Earlier in the week, Canadian officials told reporters traveling with the delegation that Trudeau had discussed China’s alleged interference activities in Canada with Xi.
Referencing Trudeau’s statement that he was never briefed about electoral interference by China during the 2019 election, Deputy Conservative Leader Melissa Lantsman tweeted that it’s “hard to imagine complaining to the President about something you hadn’t been briefed on.” Since the reports first surfaced, the Conservatives have been calling for the government to be more forthcoming about the allegations.
At Tuesday’s committee meeting, Perrault explained that “there were eyes on the ball” leading up to the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, partly out of concern about possible instances of foreign interference. But he said no reports had been made to his office about specific cases.
Justice Minister David Lametti was also asked about the reports on his way into a cabinet meeting Tuesday. He told reporters that security services are taking the situation seriously.
“It’s a serious issue,” Lametti said. “When you’re dealing with matters of national security, you have to move in a very prudent fashion.”
He added: “Obviously there’s a need for transparency, but there’s also a need for our security services to protect their sources, to protect the methods in which they gather their intelligence, all of that is important, so we need to act prudently.”