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CSIS officially directed to share more information with Parliamentarians under threat

People make their way toward the West Block of Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 6, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
People make their way toward the West Block of Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 6, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The federal government has directed the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to share more information directly with Parliamentarians under threat, and to create a direct line to the minister of public safety — changes that come in response to questions about who in Ottawa knew China was targeting the family of a Canadian MP.

A copy of the ministerial directive was made public Tuesday night. Parliament has been seized with the issue of foreign interference in Canada's affairs since reports emerged that Beijing targeted the family of Conservative MP Michael Chong in Hong Kong in retaliation for his sponsorship of a motion condemning China's treatment of the Uyghur minority as genocide.

While the Globe and Mail reported that CSIS was keeping tabs on Zhao Wei, the Chinese diplomat who allegedly was helping to orchestrate the plot dating back to 2021, multiple federal ministers say they only recently learned of the details.

Chong himself has said that while he received "defensive briefings" from CSIS, they offered few details and he did not know about Zhao's role.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted that he would be sending more instructions to the intelligence agencies on how to handle threats against MPs — regardless of whether those threats are considered credible.

WATCH | CSIS begins briefing more MPs on foreign interference

"CSIS will seek, wherever possible within the law and while protecting the security and integrity of national security and intelligence operations and investigations, to ensure that parliamentarians are informed of threats to the security of Canada directed at them," says the new CSIS directive.

"This may involve direct disclosures, or by working with other bodies, such as the government of Canada departments, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or other law enforcement agencies, as the law permits."

Intelligence sharing questioned 

The Chong matter also has raised questions about the flow of intelligence in government.

The MP revealed that the current national security adviser, Jody Thomas, told him the report had been sent to one of her predecessors.

"This report contained information that I and other MPs were being targeted by the [People's Republic of China]," Chong told the House.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

But all three national security and intelligence advisers who served Prime Minister Trudeau in the summer of 2021 — when the CSIS report was written — have said they do not recall seeing an intelligence report that suggested China was targeting the family of a Canadian MP.

The new ministerial briefing seems to be creating a direct line to the minister of public safety to avoid further confusion.

"The minister of public safety will be informed of all instances of threats to the security of Canada directed at Parliament or to parliamentarians in a timely manner and with an explanation," it says.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the directive is about giving "specific instructions" to the agency.

"Going forward, CSIS will be required to inform the minister of public safety on any foreign interference threats that involve Parliamentarians or their families," he said in a statement.

"Furthermore, whenever possible, CSIS must brief Parliamentarians on these threats. Canada will never tolerate foreign interference, and we will continue to take action to protect our democratic institutions and those who work within them."