In Canada

By Dimitri Lascaris, originally published on his website.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Parliament’s National Security and Intelligence Committee (NSICOP) released an 84-page, special report on alleged foreign interference in Canada’s “democratic processes and institutions”.

Initially, the committee delivered its special report to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on March 22 of this year.

As a result of mounting controversy around allegations of foreign interference in Canada, NSICOP then publicly released a heavily redacted version of its special report.

How can an evidence-free report be “damning”?

Predictably, Canada’s corporate media described the report as “shocking“, “explosive” and “damning“. They did so despite the fact (which the media ignored) that the report is totally devoid of evidence.

I’ve read the report twice. I did so from the perspective of a litigator. That is, to assess whether NSICOP’s allegations were supported by persuasive evidence, I brought to bear my extensive experience in evaluating evidence.

Despite those efforts, I’ve been unable to identify a shred of objectively reliable evidence anywhere in NSICOP’s report.

At the outset of its report, NSICOP discloses that:

This report is composed of an introduction, four chapters, a conclusion, the Committee’s findings and recommendations, and four annexes. The four chapters are almost exclusively based upon classified documentation, mostly summary assessments intended for senior officials or ministers and classified briefings, but also specific reporting from various security and intelligence organizations. This is especially true of Chapter 2 and parts of Chapter 3, where the Committee summarizes trends or specific instances and issues of foreign interference. Readers should note that the Committee has fully or partly redacted references to much of this source material to avoid injury to Canada’s national security, national defence or international relations.

[Emphasis added.]

NSICOP’s defenders might argue that the committee was obliged to withhold all the evidence underlying its conclusions and recommendations because its report was “almost exclusively” based on “classified documentation”.

That argument begs two key questions: who decided that this documentation should be classified in the first place, and how do we know that the decision to classify the documentation was based on legitimate reasoning?

In effect, NSICOP is asking the public to accept that there was no relevant evidence that it could release to the public without harming Canada’s national security. Given the nature and number of the allegations in NSICOP’s report, that proposition is highly dubious.

Moreover, NSICOP reveals that the classified documentation it reviewed consisted “mostly” of “summary assessments for senior officials”. What does the committee mean by “summary” assessments? Does that mean that the reports which the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) had provided to senior government officials contained little evidence, and simply set forth the conclusions CSIS analysts had reached based on evidence that only they had reviewed?

Whatever the answers to those questions may be, NSICOP’s special report can be reduced, in essence, to two words: ‘CSIS says…’.

Why? Because the committee cites CSIS as a source more than 160 times, and does so far more than it cites all other sources combined. Essentially, NSICOP is asking the citizenry to ‘just trust CSIS’.

That, however, is something that no sensible citizen would do.

Why CSIS cannot be trusted

NSICOP’s obsequious reliance on CSIS leaves no doubt that the committee regards CSIS as a highly credible source, but CSIS destroyed its own credibility long ago.

In 2016, thousands of pages of secret files obtained by the CBC revealed how CSIS knew that three Canadians were being tortured in Syrian jails in a post-Sept. 11 crackdown, and that CSIS co-operated with Syrian officials in their interrogations.

Maher Arar, another Canadian arrested and tortured in Syria in the wake of the September 11 attacks, received an apology and a $10.5-million settlement from Canada’s federal government in 2007. Documents revealed that, within two days of Arar’s deportation from the United States, CSIS suspected that the CIA had shipped Arar somewhere to face possible torture, but did not alert its political masters.

There’s more.

In 2020, a Federal Court of Canada judge slammed CSIS for lying in closed hearings, where CSIS representatives have an extra special “duty of utmost good faith in the representations it makes to the court.” The Court noted that CSIS — in the name of fighting alleged “terrorism” — engaged in illegal activities, including “provision of money” and “provision of personal property” to a person “known to be facilitating or carrying out terrorist activity.”

In addition, Aljazeera reported last year that, in its zeal to root out alleged Chinese interference in Canadian politics, CSIS had smeared two veteran Canadian police officers.

Finally, last October, another Federal Court judge chastised CSIS over concerns related to judicial warrants and the disclosure of information about Canadians. According to the Court, “CSIS’s failure to live up to its obligations in this regard appears to have been an institutional failing, rather than a failing of any particular individual or individuals” [emphasis added].

The incidents mentioned above are by no means an exhaustive list of CSIS’s acts of deception. These incidents are nonetheless sufficient to demonstrate that CSIS cannot be trusted.

Consequently, if CSIS is unwilling to disclose to the public the evidence upon which its foreign interference allegations are based, then no rational citizen would simply assume CSIS’s claims to be true.

The un-redacted special report

In theory, NSICOP’s un-redacted report (which the public has not seen) could contain sufficient evidence to substantiate CSIS’s claims of foreign interference, but a recent interview of Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May suggests otherwise.

To gain access to the un-redacted report, May (who is a lawyer) fulfilled the onerous requirements that MPs must satisfy to view classified information. She then read the un-redacted NSICOP report.

After reading it, May gave a lengthy interview to The Hill-Times. When asked by a Hill Times reporter about the report’s reliability, May stated:

…it’s not the equivalent of evidence, it’s not hard facts. There’s a tremendous amount of analysis that goes into what we collect through our intelligence operations as a country and I think it’s very reliable…”

So just giving a bit more context, this is not black and white stuff in the sense that this is evidence, nor is it clear at what point anyone has crossed the line, whether a foreign agent or a proxy of a foreign government or an elected person in Canada, at what point have they crossed the line toward something that would actually have some element of criminality…

During the Hill Times interview, May also questioned the veracity of CSIS. She recounted that a former Canadian Solicitor General had assured her, based on an assessment provided to him by CSIS, that Maher Arar was “a really bad actor”. May acknowledged that CSIS’s false assessment of Arar (which May generously characterized as a “mistake”) had persuaded her that representations from CSIS should be treated with caution.

The usual suspects

Predictably, NSICOP’s report focuses upon China, Russia and Iran, stating:

In its 2019 review of the Government Response to Foreign Interference, the Committee noted that the most significant perpetrators of foreign interference in Canada were the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Russian Federation, with the PRC representing the greatest foreign interference threat… The Committee found that these activities posed a significant risk to national security, principally by undermining Canada’s fundamental institutions and eroding the rights and freedoms of people in Canada.

Although Canadian political discourse is heavily influenced by corporate and government propaganda emanating from the United States, NSICOP’s report says nothing about U.S. influence over Canadian politics or Canada’s “democratic institutions”. Not one word.

One of the report’s more salacious allegations is that China’s government operates “overseas police stations” in Canada. NSICOP states:

One means by which the PRC has engaged in transnational repression received attention by the media in late 2022. In September 2022, a report published by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Safeguard Defenders alleged that the PRC had established a series of “Overseas Police Stations” in countries around the world, including Canada. (“Overseas Police Station” is derived from the term “Police-Overseas Chinese Liaison Stations,” which itself is a direct translation from the Chinese term used by the PRC.) Subsequent investigation *** confirmed these reports.

As of March 2023, there were at least seven stations in Canada: three in Toronto, two in Vancouver and two in Montreal. The stations were housed in various locations, including a residence and a convenience store, and reportedly provided PRC-related administrative services, such as renewing PRC driver’s licences. According to PCO, Canadian community leaders ran the stations under the broad direction of PRC-based Ministry of Public Safety police officers.

[Footnotes omitted.]

Safeguard Defenders is based in Spain. It was founded by Michael Caster, an American attorney, and Peter Dahlin, a Swede who at one point worked for the Swedish government. In his LinkedIn profile, Dahlin proudly displays the colours of the Ukrainian flag.

Safeguard Defenders’ website does not disclose the identities of any of its donors. The website reveals only that the organization’s existing support “is almost entirely dependent on grants”, and that the grants come from “international institutions, foundations and governments’ development assistance programs“.

In assessing the veracity of organizations such as Safeguard Defenders, here’s a good rule of thumb: if the organization is based in the West, is run by Westerners, is exclusively focused on the conduct of official enemies of the West, and refuses to disclose the identities of its donors, you should take the organization’s allegations against the West’s official enemies with a gigantic grain of salt.

At the end of the day, I do not know whether China, Russia or Iran surreptitiously interfere in Canadian political discourse or in its “democratic institutions”. It is possible that they do. The Canadian government, however, has failed to disclose persuasive evidence to support its allegations against them. Moreover, the Government could be protecting ‘allies’ of Canada who engage in these very offences.

NSICOP’s unnamed villains

A careful reading of NSICOP’s report reveals that it has concealed the identities of several states that it believes to be engaged in serious misconduct in Canada. Predictably, Canada’s corporate media have ignored NSICOP’s concealment of this critical information.

On page 11 of its report, NSICOP states that “The Committee also noted that other states [i.e. states other than China and Russia], including India, ***, Pakistan and Iran, engaged in foreign interference activities.”

On the following page, NSICOP states:

A number of states conducted activities that undermined the democratic rights and freedoms of Canadians during the time under review. In addition to the foreign states mentioned above, *** and Iran continued to monitor and repress respective ethnocultural communities in Canada. However, the Committee did not observe any intelligence reporting about these three states engaging in foreign interference activities targeting Canadian democratic processes and institutions.

[Emphasis added.]

Finally, on page 13 of the report, NSICOP states:

During the period under review, the primary perpetrators of repression against ethnocultural communities in Canada were the PRC, India, ***, Iran, *** and ***. Observed transnational repression focused on fundamental rights and freedoms (e.g., freedom of expression), but did not directly target democratic institutions and processes.

[Emphasis added; footnotes omitted.]

It is thus clear that NSICOP believes that at least six foreign states are the “primary perpetrators of repression against ethnocultural communities in Canada”. Nonetheless, it refuses, for unexplained reasons, to disclose the identities of three of those “primary perpetrators”.

Why?

As noted above, the committee states at the outset of its report that it has withheld some information from the public in order to “avoid injury… to international relations”. Western governments tend to use this formulation when they uncover wrongdoing by their ‘allies’, but want to prevent embarrassment to those ‘allies’ and to the local politicians who promoted cooperation with those ‘allies’.

Recently, the New York Times and Israeli newspaper Haaretz  reported that Israel is behind a social-media influence campaign targeting North Americans with Islamophobic content. Allegedly, Israel’s operation was aimed at reducing support for Palestinians in Canada.

Such an operation would unquestionably constitute “repression against ethnocultural communities in Canada”.

The question therefore arises: is NSICOP protecting Israel or other ‘allies’ of Canada who perpetrate repression against ethnocultural communities in Canada?

NSICOP’s report also alleges, on page 26, that:

Member of Parliament wittingly provided information *** to a foreign state [*** This paragraph was revised to remove injurious or privileged information. ***] The Committee notes a particularly concerning case of a then-member of Parliament maintaining a relationship with a foreign intelligence officer. According to CSIS, the member of Parliament sought to arrange a meeting in a foreign state with a senior intelligence official and also proactively provided the intelligence officer with information provided in confidence.

This, of course, is an extremely serious allegation: it might involve treasonous conduct by a former Member of Canada’s Parliament. Yet NSICOP refuses to disclose the identity of the foreign state with which this former MP collaborated.

Evidently, the committee’s concealment of the identity of that foreign state is based on its belief that disclosure of that state’s identity would be “injurious”, but injurious to whom? How can it be in the security interests of Canadians for the identity of that state to be withheld from the public? And why hasn’t this former MP been prosecuted?

I have transmitted to NSICOP several questions regarding the foreign states it has chosen to protect in its report. Those questions appear at the end of this article. If NSICOP provides answers to my questions, I’ll publish its answers in full on this website.

The true objectives of NSICOP’s report

If NSICOP truly prioritized the integrity of Canada’s democratic discourse and the protection of its democratic institutions, the Committee would not give a free pass to any states which manipulate political discourse in Canada or interfere in its democratic institutions.

All states engaging in such behaviour should be named and shamed, especially if Canada’s Government deems those states to be ‘allies’ of Canada. Canadians have a right to know whether its supposed ‘allies’ engage in conduct that undermines Canadian democracy.

NSICOP’s unjustifiable concealment of this important information suggests that its ultimate objective is not to protect Canadian democracy.

Rather, by manufacturing hysteria around alleged foreign interference by the West’s official enemies, the Committee and its accomplices in the intelligence community and corporate media seek to generate public support for three objectives:

  1. the West’s increasingly belligerent (and dangerous) posture toward Russia, China and Iran;
  2. increased government spending on ‘national security’ and the military; and
  3. censorship, particularly censorship in regard to Canadian foreign policy.

With regard to censorship, it’s no coincidence that NSICOP’s report has been released to the public at the same time that the Trudeau government has advanced two extremely repressive bills.

As I explained here and here, the Government’s Online Harms bill (Bill C-63) and its Countering Foreign Interference bill (Bill C-70) deter  dissent – particularly criticism of Canada’s morally bankrupt foreign policy – by using broad, ambiguous language and imposing Draconian penalties on those who run afoul of the amorphous legislation.

In short, a Committee that was established for the ostensible purpose of protecting Canadian democracy is, in reality, an accomplice in the suppression of Canadians’ democratic rights.

 

*****************************************

My written questions to NSICOP:

Good evening, I am a freelance reporter based in Montreal.
I have reviewed NSICOP’s 84-page special report on alleged foreign interference in Canada’s democratic processes and institutions, and I have several questions about the report which I request that you answer at your earliest convenience.
On page 13 of its report, NSICOP states:

During the period under review, the primary perpetrators of repression against ethnocultural communities in Canada were the PRC, India, ***, Iran, *** and ***. Observed transnational repression focused on fundamental rights and freedoms (e.g., freedom of expression), but did not directly target democratic institutions and processes.

As I read this paragraph, NSICOP has identified six states as the “primary perpetrators of repression against ethnocultural communities in Canada”, but has decided not to identify three of those states.

Is my reading correct? If not, how many states has NSICOP identified as “primary perpetrators of repression against ethnocultural communities in Canada”?

Further, why has NSICOP decided to withhold from the public the identities of some of the states it deems to be the “primary perpetrators of repression against ethnocultural communities in Canada”? Are any of those states considered by NSICOP to be allies of Canada?

On page 26 of its report, NSICOP alleges that:

Member of Parliament wittingly provided information *** to a foreign state [*** This paragraph was revised to remove injurious or privileged information. ***] The Committee notes a particularly concerning case of a then-member of Parliament maintaining a relationship with a foreign intelligence officer. According to CSIS, the member of Parliament sought to arrange a meeting in a foreign state with a senior intelligence official and also proactively provided the intelligence officer with information provided in confidence.

Why has NSICOP withheld the identify of the foreign state referred to in this paragraph?

Does NSICOP consider that the foreign state referred to in the above paragraph is an ally of Canada?

Finally, is the foreign state referred to on page 26 of the report one of the “primary perpetrators of repression against ethnocultural communities in Canada” which NSICOP refers to on page 13 of its report?

I would appreciate your responses to the above questions at your earliest convenience.

*****

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