Canada Must Strengthen Its Response to Transnational Repression from China

by Dr. Jasneet Bedi

In recent times, Canada has been starkly reminded of the pervasive threat of foreign interference and transnational repression (TNR), a menace that undermines the sovereignty and safety of its citizens. While the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar has been drummed up Justin Trudeau and the pro-Khalistan elements publicly to point fingers at India, his death seemed more of a gang war, nothing more. However, it is crucial to pivot our attention towards another formidable source of Canadian TNR – China.

The revelation from Canada’s domestic spy agency regarding China’s interference in the last two elections underscores the gravity of suspected meddling in Canadian politics. The disclosure, made during an official probe, provides the most concrete evidence yet of China’s involvement in shaping electoral outcomes.

A slide presented during the commission hearing contained excerpts from a February 2023 briefing by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), stating unequivocally, “We know that the PRC (Peoples’ Republic of China) clandestinely and deceptively interfered in both the 2019 and 2021 elections.” The briefing highlighted the pragmatic nature of these foreign interference activities, which primarily aimed to bolster candidates perceived as ‘pro-PRC’ or ‘neutral’ on matters of interest to the Chinese government. This confirmation raises significant concerns about the integrity of Canada’s democratic process and calls for robust measures to safeguard against future meddling attempts.

The experiences of Canadian MP Michael Chong, who faced a coordinated disinformation campaign from China due to his criticism of the country’s treatment of Uighurs, exemplify Beijing’s audacious attempts to silence dissent abroad. This is not an isolated incident but a reflection of a broader strategy employed by the Chinese government to exert its influence and suppress opposition globally.

The plight of the Uighur community in Canada, subjected to harassment, surveillance, and threats from Chinese operatives, underscores the extent of Beijing’s reach. Activists like Mehmet Tohti and Bakhtiar Semseddin have courageously spoken out, despite the risks to themselves and their families, about the tactics employed by the Chinese government to intimidate and silence them.

Furthermore, the ordeal of Omar Abdulaziz, targeted by cyber espionage, illustrates the sophistication and intrusiveness of the tools at the disposal of authoritarian regimes like China and Saudi Arabia. The use of Pegasus Spyware in Abdulaziz’s case is a chilling reminder of the lengths to which these governments will go to clamp down on dissent, even beyond their borders.

The Canadian government’s response to these threats has been lackluster at best. While there are ongoing inquiries and discussions about strengthening laws to combat foreign interference, the victims of TNR often feel abandoned, lacking adequate support from law enforcement and intelligence services. The case of Yuekang Li, denied a study permit due to fears of espionage, signals a growing awareness but also hints at the complexity and challenge of addressing this issue.

Canada’s large and diverse diaspora communities make it a prime target for foreign interference and TNR. The state must recognize the gravity of this threat and take decisive action to protect its residents. This involves not only enhancing legal frameworks and law enforcement capabilities but also providing support and resources to those targeted by such campaigns.

The creation of a standalone definition of transnational repression, as advocated by former minister of justice Irwin Cotler, could be a significant step forward. It would clarify the nature of the threat and enable more effective responses. Moreover, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and other agencies need the authority and means to engage more proactively with communities at risk, offering guidance and support.

In light of these pressing issues, it is imperative for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the current Canadian administration to adopt a firmer stance against China’s transnational repression tactics. Instead of appeasing Beijing, Canada must take a stand and speak out against the injustices and infringements on freedom perpetrated by the Chinese government. While addressing concerns related to any nation, including the allegations against India, it is crucial that the Canadian government maintains a balanced and principled approach. Pandering to any group, including Khalistani extremists, should not overshadow the broader imperative to challenge and counter the real and present threats emanating from China. The safety and democratic values of Canada and its residents necessitate a clear, strong, and consistent voice against all forms of foreign interference and repression, without any bias or preferential treatment.

Dr. Jasneet Bedi

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