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China may have tried to discourage Canadians from voting Conservative: federal unit

OTTAWA –

A federal research unit has uncovered an act of disinformation by the Chinese Communist Party aimed at preventing Chinese Canadians from voting for the Conservative Party in the last federal election.

On September 13, 2021, analysis by the Canada Rapid Response Mechanism, which tracks foreign interference, said researchers observed Communist Party media accounts on media platforms. Chinese social media Douyin widely shared that the Conservatives would sever diplomatic ties with Beijing.

The report, obtained by the Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act, was prepared just a week before Canadians went to vote.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party emerged from the September 20 national vote with a new minority mandate, while the Conservatives, led by Erin O’Toole, formed the official Opposition Party.

O’Toole, who is no longer in leadership, claimed on a podcast recorded this month that the Conservative Party had lost eight or nine seats to foreign interference from China.

The Canada Rapid Response Mechanism, based at Global Affairs Canada, creates open data analytics to chart trends, strategies and tactics against foreign interference.

Its work supports the G7 RRM, an initiative to increase coordination to identify and respond to threats to major industrial democracies.

The analysis of Conservative messaging is part of RRM Canada’s effort to monitor the digital information environment for signs of foreign state-sponsored information manipulation during the general election.

Conservative MP Michael Chong, a critic of the party’s foreign affairs, said in an interview the analysis was “another piece of evidence that the Communist leadership in Beijing has interfered in the last general election by spreading disinformation.”

RRM Canada said it manually reviewed Chinese social media platforms including WeChat, Douyin, Weibo, Xigua and Bilibili, and conducted open-source forensic digital analysis using website hosting, social listening tools and cross-platform social media ranking tools.

Analysts first noticed the Conservative story in two articles published September 8 by the Global Times, a state media tabloid.

RRM Canada believes that Global Times coverage was motivated by a story in the Ottawa-based Hill Times that examined the positions of Canadian parties on Canada-China relations. The analysis said it was likely that the Global Times was the first Chinese publication to absorb the content of the Ottawa publication, with two of its articles receiving more than 100,000 views each.

RRM Canada noted that the timing coincided with the first federal leaders debate and the poll numbers were getting closer and closer. Similar reports were published by major Canadian media outlets in early September, as well as by the Conservative Party platform released in August, with no response from the state-controlled media. control in China, the analysis said.

Analysts found that a number of Canada-focused WeChat news accounts began interacting with the Global Times report on September 9, copying content and appearance without attribution. product, “obscure the point of origin of the story,” the analysts found.

The accounts also added Tories commentary to articles, such as “Chinese people are afraid of the platform” and questioned whether “Chinese compatriots should support the Conservative Party if they use language.” this or not.”

“Unless noted otherwise, WeChat users will not be aware that the coverage of the Conservative Party and O’Toole originates from the Global Times and will assume that the articles are original reports from their WeChat accounts. Canada.”

Many WeChat news accounts serving Canadians have been registered to those in China, and despite being reputable news sources, “some may have dubious links” to Party media groups. Communist China, the analysis said.

The researchers “were unable to determine whether there is a coordination between the CCP media that originally promoted the narrative and the popular WeChat news accounts serving Chinese-speaking Canadians that are now amplifying the narrative. or not,” the September 13 analysis warns.

“RRM Canada was also unable to determine whether there was any inauthentic activity driving user engagement with the story because China’s social media platforms are completely non-transparent.”

However, Communist Party media accounts on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, published videos repeating the September 8 Global Times headline, the analysis said. For example, the account Douyin of Xinhua News Agency, China’s state-run news agency, shared a video saying that the Conservative platform mentioned China “31 times” and an “expert” said that The party “almost wants to sever diplomatic relations with China.”

The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment on the Canadian RRM analysis.

Among the Conservative Party’s foundational plans during the election campaign were promises to side with Beijing on human rights issues, diversify supply chains to get it out of China, adopt a false pretense. determined against allowing Beijing’s state-owned entities to take over Canadian companies, and towards a global less dependent on vital minerals from China.

Chong said it was clear that proxies spread disinformation on behalf of Beijing during the federal election.

“It’s hard to measure whether that’s the reason some Conservative MPs lost their way. But I think we can safely say it was a contributing factor.”

If Beijing comes to the same conclusion, China “could very well be incentivized to do something much bigger in a future federal election, undermining our democratic process,” Chong said. .

According to a federal protocol, there will be a public announcement if a panel of senior officials determines that an incident – or accumulation of incidents – threatens the possibility of a free election. and equity of Canada. There was no such announcement last year.

At a House committee meeting earlier this month, Bill Blair, public safety minister during the campaign, said while “we’ve all heard anecdotes and many different opinions.” each other”, he did not directly receive “any information from our intelligence agencies”. provide evidence of foreign interference in the campaign.

Deputy Secretary Rob Stewart told the meeting that, “as you would expect,” social media activities would constitute disinformation and attempt to influence votes. “There is no threat to the overall integrity of the election.”

The Canadian Election Misinformation Project, which brought together a number of academic researchers, found that Chinese officials and state media commented on the election with the express purpose of convincing Canadians. of Chinese descent to vote against the Conservatives in 2021.

“Misleading and critical information about some candidates circulated on Chinese-language social media platforms. However, we found no evidence that China’s interference had any effect. significantly affect the overall election.”

The Conservatives “could have done a better job” of combating such messages, Chong said. “Obviously we didn’t, and that was a lesson learned.”

Even so, the federal government needs to actively combat foreign disinformation between election campaigns, Chong said. During campaigns, the government should immediately make analysis from the Rapid Response Mechanism available to the public, he added.

Fen Hampson, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University who closely watches China, agrees that more transparency would be beneficial.

He argues for expanding the analytical process, perhaps through the creation of a center to include NGOs, to gather information from a variety of sources and to regularly publish reports on the obvious foreign intervention.

“That takes it out of the domestic political arena, which is always highly charged.”


This Canadian Press report was first published on June 23, 2022.

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