Trudeau says China tried to meddle in Canada elections


China tried to meddle in the last two Canadian elections but the results were not affected and it was “improbable” Beijing preferred any one party over another, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has told an official probe.

In sworn testimony on Wednesday before a commission conducting a public inquiry into alleged foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 Canadian elections, Trudeau answered questions about intelligence briefings he had received and asserted the elections were “free and fair”.

The prime minister set up the commission last year under pressure from opposition legislators unhappy about media reports on China’s possible role in the elections. China has consistently denied that it interfered in Canada’s internal affairs, calling the allegations “groundless”.

Erin O’Toole, who led the main opposition Conservative party during the 2021 campaign, has estimated Chinese interference cost his party up to nine seats but added it had not changed the course of the election. Trudeau’s Liberal Party won both the elections.

“Nothing we have seen and heard despite, yes, attempts by foreign states to interfere, those elections held in their integrity. They were decided by Canadians,” Trudeau said.

Asked about an intelligence report about Chinese officials in Canada expressing a preference in 2021 for a Liberal minority government due to the perception that minority governments would be more limited in enacting anti-China policies, Trudeau said the report had not reached him.

“While individual [Chinese] officials may well have expressed a preference or another, the impression we got and consistently would get is that … it just would seem very improbable that the Chinese government itself would have a preference in the election,” Trudeau said.

‘China has never had any interest in interfering in Canada’s affairs’

On Monday, Canada’s domestic spy agency told the commission that China “clandestinely and deceptively interfered” in both elections, the firmest evidence so far of suspected Chinese meddling in Canadian politics.

A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Canada said Trudeau “slandered” China during the inquiry and that “China strongly deplores and resolutely opposes this”.

The spokesperson accused some politicians of attempting to target China in the public investigation.

“China has never had any interest in interfering in Canada’s internal affairs,” the spokesperson added.

The elections were conducted amid high tension between the countries over the 2018 arrest in Canada of a top executive of the Chinese company Huawei on a warrant issued by the United States.

Shortly afterwards, China detained two Canadians on spying charges. The men were released three years later, shortly after detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou flew home after reaching a deal with US prosecutors.

The commission will complete an initial report by May 3 and deliver its final report by the end of 2024.__Al Jazeera