Foreign interference inquiry testimony yet more proof Ottawa doesn’t take national security seriously

The more we learn about the volume of intelligence ignored on PRC election interference in Canada, the more worried we should be

This piece first appeared in The Epoch Times Canada on April 19, 2024.

Well, that’s that I guess… for now.

Canadians were riveted to their TVs/laptops last week as the public inquiry into foreign interference in our elections took things up a notch. Heck, even the prime minister took the stand to, um, tell us what he knew or didn’t know and when he did or didn’t know things and what he did or didn’t do about it.

All in all, a rather sad look at how the upper echelons in our government dealt with what can only be described as a serious attempt by the Peoples’ Republic of China (yes, there are other nasties out there but China stole the show) to undermine our democratic process through, among other tactics, harassing voters, busing foreign nationals to nomination meetings, and seeking to ensure an outcome that is in the PRC’s interests and not ours.

When all is said and done, what does the average Canadian take from this? In all honesty, not much, and what we did learn is not good. What was obvious is that we currently have a prime minister and a government (i.e., MPs, civil servants, and senior bureaucrats) which inexplicably has chosen to minimize the dangers to our electoral process. Sure, they told us that there were indeed efforts to sway (read intimidate) some voters, but once all the votes were counted it really did not matter at all. The election went off without a hitch and the results were valid. In other words, nothing to see here, and go Leafs go! Unless you are from Winnipeg, Vancouver, or Edmonton that is.

From my vantage point, having spent more than three decades at the intelligence “coalface” in Canada (with CSE, CSIS, and the OPP), there were some alarming, if not unexpected, disclosures. These are important, even if national security is not a hot-button issue for the vast majority of Canadians, especially on election day.

Among these revelations were the affirmation that we in Canada suffer from an all but non-existent intelligence culture, meaning that intelligence is poorly understood, rarely used, and seen as “inconvenient.” Officials are incapable of differentiating between intelligence and evidence and seem to have no clue what CSIS is capable of doing under its mandate. Heck, even former Public Safety Minister Bill Blair was waiting for CSIS to “take action” based on its intelligence into PRC interference. When the minister responsible for your spy service demonstrates this appalling lack of insight into what the agency can and cannot do—has he even read the CSIS Act?—you know we are in trouble.

We are even less knowledgeable about what the PM does—or does not do—with intelligence. Does he “read everything”? Or does he rely on oral briefings from officials with no background in intelligence? The latter is the equivalent of asking your manicurist about your financial portfolio rather than a professional. Not an optimal practice.

Most egregiously to my mind was the way in which Justin Trudeau threw CSIS under the bus. The agency’s intelligence was dismissed as inadequate and not enough to take action on. A curious statement from a man who was provided with detailed briefs on PRC meddling on 34 (34!) separate occasions. How good and comprehensive does the information provided have to be in order for it to be taken seriously? Or does our PM magically know more about threats than the very agency created to detect, investigate and advise him about them?

So, now with the inquiry in recess for a bit, what is next? Here are my bold predictions:

  1. The recommendations of this process, whenever they are made available, will travel the same road as similar advice from other inquiries: i.e., the road to nowhere;
  2. The PRC and others (India, Pakistan, Russia, Iran) are chortling at our incompetence to protect the reliability of our electoral process and are most likely engaged in even nastier plans for 2025;
  3. Morale at CSIS and CSE will continue to plummet (this is what my sources tell me) as Canada’s professional intelligence practitioners realize their efforts are all for naught.

What should be done? That list is a long one but here are a few things. The PM and his team have to stop relying on middle managers to interpret intelligence for them and allow the heads of CSE, CSIS, the RCMP and others to brief them in person on a regular basis, i.e., professionals and not part-time amateurs (as is the current National Security Intelligence Advisor). We need a government to take threats seriously and not dismiss them as inconsequential. In other words, we need a government that cares about protecting our democracy.

I have no confidence any of this will happen, or will get more than lip service and vague “promises.” Real change will necessitate a change in government.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.