Politicians should have listened to Fadden’s warnings instead of reprimanding him

Whistling past the graveyard when faced with bad news – like foreign spying on your soil – is seldom a good strategy

This piece originally appeared in the Epoch Times on June 23, 2023.

We humans are odd creatures sometimes. When faced with information that is negative we tend to want to avoid it. If someone says “I have good news and I have bad news,” many of us ask to hear the former first, dreading the latter.

At the end of the day, however, it is best to listen to whatever the bad news is eventually. Chances are it’s not going to disappear anyway, so ignoring it is the equivalent of kicking the information can down the road. Accept it, decide what it means, and what you need to do about it. Unfortunately, Canadian federal and provincial governments seems to want to avoid the inevitable.

Canada has been all abuzz for months now about leaked intelligence alleging that China meddled in our last two federal elections (2019 and 2021) to help elect a minority Liberal government it felt would be in its interests. Many have expressed shock in this blatant interference in our democratic process by an autocracy that is involved in all kinds of nasty influence-peddling around the world. Why would they target Canada, and why now?

Except that warnings over this action are not new. Way back in 2010, then-Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) director Richard Fadden told the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge on “The National” that Chinese interference in Canada was a growing threat to our democracy. He also said that several municipal politicians in B.C. and provincial cabinet ministers in at least two provinces, along with a number of public servants, were under the influence of Beijing.

That was some warning! The more so, given that what Mr. Fadden had to say was derived from intelligence collected by the women and men who worked for him at CSIS. Spy agencies are loath to go public like this, suggesting the director felt it was serious enough to inform Canadians about this activity.

In the face of this bad news, did the government of the day—that of Prime Minister Stephen Harper—act? Did they expel Chinese diplomats? Were any charges laid? Was there a public inquiry into the affair? Not quite…

In fact, opposition parties pounced on Mr. Fadden’s comments, accusing him of fomenting hatred against Canadians of Chinese origin and calling for him to be fired. CSIS directors, they blathered, were NOT to make any public statements about foreign interference. So there.

As the French say, plus ca changeThirteen years later, a mysterious leaker says more or less the same thing, and the government of the day—which was in opposition in 2010—levels the same ridiculous accusations of anti-Asian sentiment and does its utmost to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. A report by former governor general David Johnston is produced in which the main message is that there is nothing to see here, and that any fault lies with CSIS and not with those who have been willfully blind to intelligence for a decade and a half. Calls by Parliament for a public inquiry are put aside and we all move on.

It is said that those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it. Events of 13 years ago are not really “history,” they are of much more recent parentage, and yet the same result: pretend the bad news doesn’t matter. Whistle as you pass the graveyard, put your hands over your ears while chanting “la-la-la-la I can’t hear you!”—pick your metaphor. Canadian governments and certain political parties (which start and end with the letter ‘l’) continue to exist in a fairyland where bad news is non-existent.

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.