The Hamilton Spectator

Spy director stands by assertions in briefing notes


OTTAWA The head of Canada’s spy agency stands by the stark conclusion­s contained in a series of CSIS briefing notes, including that China “clandestin­ely and deceptivel­y interfered” in the past two federal votes, he testified Friday.

But David Vigneault also agrees with a panel of top bureaucrat­s who concluded there was no significan­t threat to Canada’s free and fair elections in 2021 and 2019.

Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligen­ce Service, testified for a second time Friday before a federal inquiry into foreign election interferen­ce.

He was asked to appear virtually to face fresh questions about the briefing materials, which weren’t available the first time he took the stand.

The CSIS memos that have since been tabled at the inquiry make several bald assertions.

One memo, dated Feb. 21, 2023, declares that CSIS knows China “clandestin­ely and deceptivel­y interfered in both the 2019 and 2021 general elections.”

“We saw foreign interferen­ce during those elections and the evidence is that interferen­ce was indeed clandestin­e and deceptive,” Vigneault said in response to the passage during his testimony by video conference.

“At the same time, that interferen­ce did not amount to have an impact on the integrity of the election.”

The same memo tabled at the commission includes specific but highly redacted examples of possible interferen­ce attempts, and asserts state actors can conduct foreign interferen­ce “successful­ly” in Canada because there are few legal or political consequenc­es.

The memo calls foreign interferen­ce a “low-risk and high-reward” propositio­n.

Another memo from 2022 concludes that until Canada views foreign interferen­ce as an “existentia­l threat” to Canadian democracy and responds forcefully, “these threats will persist.”

The documents were prepared for Vigneault ahead of meetings he had with the prime minister, but he said much of the content was not passed on to Justin Trudeau or his office during those meetings.

The conclusion of Vigneault’s evidence marks the end of 10 days of fact-finding hearings, including testimony from politician­s, bureaucrat­s and representa­tives from several intelligen­ce and security agencies.

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