OTTAWA – Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong was the target of an online “information operation” this past May, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) disclosed on Aug. 9.
According to the department, its “Rapid Response Mechanism” detected the disinformation campaign on the social media application WeChat while monitoring “the digital information ecosystem” ahead of byelections held in June.
The Rapid Response Mechanism monitors digital information for foreign, state-sponsored disinformation and provides analytics about threats to democracy.
“GAC worked with other departments through late June and July to review and assess the information,” an Aug. 9 press release states.
According to GAC, “a coordinated network of WeChat’s news accounts featured, shared and amplified a large volume of false or misleading narratives about Mr. Chong” between May 4 and 13.
“Most of the activity was targeted at spreading false narratives about his identity, including commentary and claims about his background, political stances and family’s heritage,” GAC states.
A third of the so-called coordinated network included state-media outlets and accounts GAC says are “likely” linked to the Chinese state.
The rest were anonymous accounts which hadn’t previously published any Canadian political news stories.
“These accounts published or interacted with content at similar times and dates, increasing the likelihood WeChat users would see the false narratives by creating an increased volume of content on this topic,” the release states.
The release does not say how many WeChat accounts were involved and GAC was unable to determine with certainty if China was involved in the WeChat posts.
“GAC will raise with China’s representatives in Canada our serious concerns over the activity observed on WeChat,” the statement adds.
“We will also convey that it is completely unacceptable to directly or indirectly support information operations that target parliamentarians, their families or any Canadians.”
In an online statement from the Chinese Embassy in Canada, dated Aug. 8, a spokesperson said GAC’s statement is “totally nonsense,” “far-fetched” and “extremely ridiculous,” and continues a trend of hyperbole about China’s interference in Canada without evidence.
“China urges the Canadian side to abandon its ideological bias, stop spreading China-related lies and false information, stop misleading the public, and stop undermining the relationship between the two countries,” the embassy’s statement reads.
“Otherwise, Canada will have to bear all the consequences.”
According to GAC, in the recent campaign there was no threat to Chong’s safety, or that of his family, but the MP was reportedly briefed last week nonetheless.
Chong was also the target of a 2021 campaign, assisted by a Chinese consular official in Toronto, to collect information on Chong and family members in Hong Kong.
Chong didn’t find out about the news until two years later, when he learned about it from a Globe and Mail reporter working on a story.
“While I appreciate that in this instance the government did not wait for two years and a media story before informing myself and the public, clearly more must be done to combat foreign interference …” Chong said in an emailed statement on Aug. 14.
In addition to criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, Chong said the news “proves that we need an open, independent public inquiry into foreign interference, and we need it now.”
Following the June resignation of former governor-general David Johnston, who was tapped by the Liberals to report on Chinese interference in recent federal elections, all federal parties agreed to terms of reference for a public inquiry.
However, a judge to lead an inquiry has not been named.
Chong also called on the government to implement a “foreign-influence registry” and to provide “intelligence and law enforcement agencies the resources and tools they need to do their jobs.”