Elections Watchdog Uninterested in Probing Alleged Foreign Influence on 2021 Liberal Candidate, Inquiry Hears

Canada’s elections watchdog waited years to investigate allegations that a 2021 Liberal candidate benefitted from undisclosed donations from individuals with ties to China, according to evidence raised in the foreign interference inquiry.The federal elections commissioner was “less interested in the issue,” according to evidence submitted during the March 28 hearing on alleged Chinese election interference.Weeks before the 2021 federal election day, members of the Chinese community were invited through social media platform WeChat to a free banquet held in Vancouver’s Chinatown Plaza, as first reported by the Vancouver Sun on Sept. 13, 2021. The event featured Josh Vander Vies, the Liberal candidate for Vancouver East, who campaigned against NDP MP Jenny Kwan,The banquet’s organizer, Fred Kwok, was allegedly associated with groups that have criticized MPs for declaring Beijing’s repression of the Uyghur minority group as genocide, according to the Sun. Mr. Kwok posted the invitation and paid for the lunch himself, the report noted. The article was later referenced in a Sept. 16, 2021 memo from the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections Task Force (SITE), a multi-departmental intelligence body.“A campaign event for the Liberal Party Vancouver East promised a free lunch hosted by a pro-Beijing individual with connections to China,” stated the memo “Federal Election: Threat Trend.”Ms. Kwan, identified as a target of Beijing’s foreign interference by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, had also voiced concerns about the banquet’s cost to the elections commission. Records showed MP Kwan filed a Sept. 7, 2021, complaint with federal investigators.Related StoriesA cursory investigation into the matter lasted over two years, and Mr. Vander Vies was fined $500 for inadequate campaign bookkeeping, according to Blacklock’s Reporter. The Liberal candidate lost to Ms. Kwan in 2021 by 18,000 votes.Two years after the incident, Ms. Kwan raised the issue again with the elections commission in an email dated Aug. 10, 2023, stating, “When I brought the Fred Kwok matter up on the telephone call with you recently, your response was that you are less interested in this issue.”Mr. Sujit Choudhry, legal counsel for Ms. Kwan, called on Elections Commissioner Caroline Simard to provide an explanation for the lack of action.“If in fact the Vancouver Chinese Consulate had provided funding for a lunch with a Canadian citizen hosting it for a political candidate during an election, would that not amount to a violation of section 282.4 of the Canada Elections Act?” Mr. Choudry asked.“For us this was a file regarding a non-monetary contribution,” Ms. Simard responded in French.“That wasn’t my question,” Mr. Choudhry said. “My question is simply this: If the Chinese Consulate in Vancouver contributed funds to a lunch hosted for a candidate in the 2021 federal election, would that not amount to undue influence by foreigners in contravention of the Canada Elections Act? It’s a simple question.”“You will understand in order to analyze a question such as that you have to look at the Act a little more closely,” Ms. Simard said. “I cannot speculate here.”The inquiry was told the commissioner could have investigated the Chinatown banquet under the Canada Elections Act section 282.4 that prohibits any foreign individual from attempting to “unduly influence an elector” during a campaign.The commissioner instead investigated the matter under a lesser offence, section 477.59 for failure to provide an accurate “statement of election expense,” and fined Mr. Vander Vies $500.“Rather than saying there was no foreign interference, at most you could say you were unable to conclude there was no foreign interference,” Mr. Choudhry said. “You couldn’t reach a conclusion either way.”

Elections Watchdog Uninterested in Probing Alleged Foreign Influence on 2021 Liberal Candidate, Inquiry Hears

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Canada’s elections watchdog waited years to investigate allegations that a 2021 Liberal candidate benefitted from undisclosed donations from individuals with ties to China, according to evidence raised in the foreign interference inquiry.

The federal elections commissioner was “less interested in the issue,” according to evidence submitted during the March 28 hearing on alleged Chinese election interference.
Weeks before the 2021 federal election day, members of the Chinese community were invited through social media platform WeChat to a free banquet held in Vancouver’s Chinatown Plaza, as first reported by the Vancouver Sun on Sept. 13, 2021. The event featured Josh Vander Vies, the Liberal candidate for Vancouver East, who campaigned against NDP MP Jenny Kwan,

The banquet’s organizer, Fred Kwok, was allegedly associated with groups that have criticized MPs for declaring Beijing’s repression of the Uyghur minority group as genocide, according to the Sun. Mr. Kwok posted the invitation and paid for the lunch himself, the report noted. The article was later referenced in a Sept. 16, 2021 memo from the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections Task Force (SITE), a multi-departmental intelligence body.

“A campaign event for the Liberal Party Vancouver East promised a free lunch hosted by a pro-Beijing individual with connections to China,” stated the memo “Federal Election: Threat Trend.”

Ms. Kwan, identified as a target of Beijing’s foreign interference by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, had also voiced concerns about the banquet’s cost to the elections commission. Records showed MP Kwan filed a Sept. 7, 2021, complaint with federal investigators.

A cursory investigation into the matter lasted over two years, and Mr. Vander Vies was fined $500 for inadequate campaign bookkeeping, according to Blacklock’s Reporter. The Liberal candidate lost to Ms. Kwan in 2021 by 18,000 votes.

Two years after the incident, Ms. Kwan raised the issue again with the elections commission in an email dated Aug. 10, 2023, stating, “When I brought the Fred Kwok matter up on the telephone call with you recently, your response was that you are less interested in this issue.”

Mr. Sujit Choudhry, legal counsel for Ms. Kwan, called on Elections Commissioner Caroline Simard to provide an explanation for the lack of action.

“If in fact the Vancouver Chinese Consulate had provided funding for a lunch with a Canadian citizen hosting it for a political candidate during an election, would that not amount to a violation of section 282.4 of the Canada Elections Act?” Mr. Choudry asked.

“For us this was a file regarding a non-monetary contribution,” Ms. Simard responded in French.

“That wasn’t my question,” Mr. Choudhry said. “My question is simply this: If the Chinese Consulate in Vancouver contributed funds to a lunch hosted for a candidate in the 2021 federal election, would that not amount to undue influence by foreigners in contravention of the Canada Elections Act? It’s a simple question.”

“You will understand in order to analyze a question such as that you have to look at the Act a little more closely,” Ms. Simard said. “I cannot speculate here.”

The inquiry was told the commissioner could have investigated the Chinatown banquet under the Canada Elections Act section 282.4 that prohibits any foreign individual from attempting to “unduly influence an elector” during a campaign.

The commissioner instead investigated the matter under a lesser offence, section 477.59 for failure to provide an accurate “statement of election expense,” and fined Mr. Vander Vies $500.

“Rather than saying there was no foreign interference, at most you could say you were unable to conclude there was no foreign interference,” Mr. Choudhry said. “You couldn’t reach a conclusion either way.”

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