Is China buying Canadian politicians?

CSIS director Richard Fadden on CBC

CSIS director Richard Fadden on CBC

With the first of this year’s two G20 summits set to kick off tomorrow (half hour later in Newfoundland), big black shiny busloads of politicians from around the globe are descending on Toronto for a few days of intense protester dodging (it really is an under-rated sport). And just a day before Hu Jintao’s 5.0-magnitude landing in Ottawa, CSIS announces that China’s infiltrating Canadian politics at all levels.

CSIS, for the non-Canadians in the house — and for a good number of Canadians I imagine, is the Canuck version of the CIA (why we didn’t name CSIS the CI-eh is a grand mystery to me) and they are famously tight lipped. In fact, with few big budget espionage movies about the secret underworld of Canadian spies, most Canadians are probably pretty surprised to learn we even have an intelligence agency that spies on people.

So, when CSIS speaks, Peter Mansbridge’s The National listens, and this week has been full of segments about the agency, including this bit where CSIS director Richard Fadden explains that several countries are fostering “agents of influence” in Canadian politics.

The segment above is pretty short, and only touches on it briefly, but Peter Mansbridge then sits down with Fadden and talks directly about those comments (link to the whole interview, starts around 15 minutes in) in a lengthy interview. Fadden lays out that, “at least one, possibly a couple countries, take very very long-range view in their efforts to influence Canada.

“You find somebody, usually in your diaspora, somebody who has a connection back to the homeland, and you start developing a relationship.” He goes on to say that often this starts in universities, through social clubs that are sponsored through the country’s embassy. This leads to grooming through the use of free travel to the country, and eventually creates a relationship so that when a situation arrises that affects “Country X”, they call up their “friend” and ask them to take a particular view. He falls short of calling it treason, but rather just asking them to “shift decision-making and public opinion in the direction for that particular country.”

And while Mansbridge asks point-blank if Fadden is talking about China, the director rather cheekily dodges a direct accusation by saying that some reports came out several months ago, and he felt they were accurate, and he “believed” China was one of the countries mentioned in those reports.

Fadden also didn’t accuse any politicians or public servants by name, but I’m betting there are a few folks in Richmond, BC, that are now sweatily second-guessing that slight “click” during their phone calls to the +86.

At the end of the day, is anyone really all that surprised? Canada is a country of immigrants and so is pretty fertile ground for foreign nations to use that dual national loyalty/identity to their advantage. My guess is that Fadden is using The National to stir up a bit of action to seal the deal on a handful of “agents” that they are just not quite able to pull the trigger on.

As for China — fair play to them. I mean, it’s dirty and the outcome undermines the fundamentals of a system built around elected representatives. But that’s not really something they put a lot of stock into anyway, so not something they are under any obligation to adhere to ethically in my opinion. That said, I do hope CSIS and the RCMP string the guilty up as a lesson to all dirty politicians in Canada — the only downside is that Canadian news, desperate for anything that even smells like big-budget action and intrigue, is sure to blow it all way out of proportion and cover it with a fish-eyed lens (Helena Guergis anyone?).

Additional analysis from the Globe & Mail’s security expert Colin Freeze (h/t Hao Hao Report)

On an aside: Way to go CBC for putting so much content online. I never watched The National when I lived in Canada, nor did I pay much attention to the CBC. But being abroad so long, I’ve come to depend on online content for all my infotainment needs. If you’re Canadian, and not aware of it — you can get all sorts of CBC podcast (audio and video) here. Just slap them into the podcast section of your iTunes or whatever and you’re set. I watch a number of them, but the two regulars are: The Hour and The National. The National is pretty full-on Can-Con, but The Hour might be of interest to non-Canadians as well, as each podcast is a segment/interview from The Hour and George tends to talk to a pretty eclectic group of people in the public eye (Eddie Izzard, Slash and Richard Dawkins were a few favs).