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Federal Election 2021

Former Trudeau Foundation CEO says she resigned after pushback on donation audit

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Flags of Canada and China are shown in Beijing, China, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. The former CEO of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation says she resigned because some members of the board refused to recuse themselves for an independent forensic audit into a 2016 donation that she says was linked to China. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Lee/Pool Photo via AP

By Mickey Djuric in Ottawa

The former CEO of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation told a parliamentary committee Friday that she resigned from that position earlier this month because of a breakdown in trust on the organization’s board of directors.

Pascale Fournier said the tensions arose after she pushed for an independent forensic audit into donations made by Chinese businessmen — and received pushback when she insisted that some members of the board recuse themselves from any such investigation.

In a statement issued after Fournier’s testimony, the foundation said it strongly contests her version of events and is looking for an opportunity to schedule its own testimony in rebuttal.

Fournier and eight other board members announced their departure in a public statement April 11 that cited the recent politicization of 2016 and 2017 donations from Chinese billionaire Zhang Bin and another Chinese businessman, Niu Gensheng, that totalled $140,000.

The foundation created an emergency committee in February after the Globe and Mail reported, citing an unnamed source, that the donors had connections to the Chinese government.

Fournier told the House of Commons ethics committee on Friday that the report prompted her to review emails from before her tenure as CEO.

She said she discovered that the China Cultural Industry Association was communicating with foundation employees about omitting information on a donation tax receipt.

After Fournier discovered two different tax receipts associated with the same money, she said she sought to have the details examined by accountants and lawyers.

And she said she wanted members of the board who were involved in the organization’s dealings at the time of the donations to recuse themselves from the process.

“Other members were saying, ‘Recuse yourself. We want an independent committee,’ and that was the heart of the tension,” Fournier said.

The Canadian Press reported earlier this month that the website of the China Cultural Industry Association says it adheres to the “total leadership” of the Chinese Communist Party and was formed with state approval. It lists Zhang Bin as its president.

But the Globe and Mail had reported that a different company called Millennium Golden Eagle International (Canada) was listed as the donor on a receipt.

The China Cultural Industry Association says Millennium Golden Eagle International is one of its executive board members and was created with the approval of China’s culture ministry. Zhang is listed as chairman of Millennium Golden Eagle International on multiple privately-run Chinese company registries.

The foundation, which provides scholarships and mentorship programs, took significant issue with Fournier’s comments in a statement released on Friday.

On behalf of its interim board of directors, Edward Johnson, one of the foundation’s founding members, said “we strongly contest several of the statements made during this testimony.”

Johnson said that the foundation contests some of the facts or their interpretation by Fournier — though he did not spell out any details — and “the reasons given to justify the resignations of the directors of the board.”

He said the foundation is in contact with the committee to set a date for its own testimony, and they “look forward to this opportunity to correct some of the statements and assertions which have been made.”

After Fournier’s resignation the foundation asked the federal auditor general to look into the donations.

But the auditor general’s office denied the request, saying auditing private donations or business dealings falls outside its mandate.

The donations to the foundation named after the current prime minister’s father were made in tandem with a $750,000 contribution to the Université de Montréal.

The Globe and Mail cited an unnamed source who alleged that the Chinese government orchestrated the donations in the hopes of influencing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The prime minister has repeatedly said that he has had no involvement with the foundation for about 10 years.

Later reports by Le Devoir, a Quebec-based newspaper, suggest that the donors intended for all of the money to go toward the university, and noted that the businessmen also made a $800,000 contribution to the University of Toronto in 2013.

The House of Commons ethics committee has been trying to get to the bottom of the matter as part of its broader study into foreign interference, amid accusations that Beijing meddled in the last two federal elections.

On Tuesday, the committee is set to hear from the foundation’s former CEO, Morris Rosenberg, who was Fournier’s predecessor.

Rosenberg also authored a report summing up senior officials’ efforts against foreign interference in the 2021 election.

He said on Friday that he continues to welcome an independent inquiry into foreign interference. Former governor general David Johnston, who was appointed to assess the government’s response to the issue, is tasked with telling the government whether an inquiry is needed by late May.

On Wednesday, the committee expects to hear from Alexandre Trudeau, the prime minister’s brother, who volunteered to testify.

He was a member of the foundation’s board of directors when the donations in question were made, Fournier said.

“It is no secret to anyone my brother has been deeply involved in the Pierre Elliott Trudeau foundation for many years, and he will answer questions as they are asked of him,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday at a news conference in New York City.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2023.

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Canadian intelligence flagged Chinese meddling 37 years ago: newly released report

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A newly released document shows intelligence officials have been tracking China’s attempts to meddle in Canadian affairs for more than one-third of a century. The February 1986 intelligence report warned that Beijing was using open political tactics and secret operations to influence and exploit the Chinese diaspora in Canada. A resident crosses a quiet street near the Central Business District skyline in Beijing, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Ng Han Guan

By Jim Bronskill in Ottawa

A newly released document shows intelligence officials have been tracking China’s attempts to meddle in Canadian affairs for more than one-third of a century.

The February 1986 intelligence report warned that Beijing was using open political tactics and secret operations to influence and exploit the Chinese diaspora in Canada.

It said China was using new and potentially more potent techniques to accomplish these goals.

The Canadian Press used the Access to Information Act to obtain the report, called “China/Canada: Interference in the Chinese Canadian Community,” produced by the federal Intelligence Advisory Committee.

Much of the document remains secret on the grounds disclosure could harm the conduct of international affairs, the defence of Canada or the detection, prevention or suppression of subversive or hostile activities.

Release of the heavily redacted report comes amid pressure on the Liberal government to hold an inquiry into foreign interference in Canada following a series of leaks to the media about purported meddling by China.

The 1986 committee report “demonstrates that this issue has been on the radar of Canadian intelligence for decades,” said Alan Barnes, a former intelligence analyst who is now a senior fellow with Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

Barnes, who recently came across the title of the document during archival research, said the Intelligence Advisory Committee was chaired by the federal security and intelligence co-ordinator in the Privy Council Office.

“Its reports were sent to a wide range of senior officials across government,” Barnes said.

The 1986 report advised that the People’s Republic of China “has continued its efforts to influence the many large Chinese communities abroad and to exploit those communities for its economic and political purposes.”

“In Canada, as in many other western countries, the PRC uses both overt political activities and covert intelligence operations … to achieve those ends,” the report added. “New, and potentially more effective, techniques are being used to influence the Canadian Chinese communities.”

Cheuk Kwan, co-chair of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, said he was not surprised by the report.

Kwan said he is aware of Chinese efforts to cultivate individuals and groups to interfere in Canadian affairs dating from the early 1980s, though the activity was at “a very low level” in those days.

“But certainly, they knew what they were trying to do. It was not an accident,” he said in an interview.

“I’m glad that at that time, somebody was aware of it. I’ll bet nobody took any action.”

Kwan said Beijing stepped up efforts to influence Chinese communities in Canada following the bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, with the aim of burnishing its badly damaged image.

Evidence has surfaced from time to time over the decades indicating interest on the part of Canadian intelligence officials in China’s behind-the-scenes actions.

In recent years, the federal government and its security agencies have begun to openly point a finger at Beijing as particularly active in foreign interference activities against Canada.

Representatives of the Chinese government have consistently denied meddling in Canadian affairs.

Leaks to the media from unnamed security sources about alleged Chinese attempts to interfere in the last two general elections have prompted calls for the federal Liberals to explain what Canada is doing in response.

Opposition parties continue to press the government to establish a full public inquiry.

Kwan said while an inquiry could help document the history of China’s interference ploys, it would essentially be “looking backwards” but not “going to help you going forward.”

The partial release of the intelligence report, 37 years after it was written, illustrates the need for Canada to adopt a proper system for the declassification of historic intelligence and security records after a specific period of time, Barnes said.

Canada is the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance — which also includes the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand — that does not have a declassification process for historic records, he noted.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2023.

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Bloc leader optimistic Trudeau will call public inquiry into foreign interference

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