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Inquiry Reveals Elections Watchdog’s Lack of Interest in Investigating Alleged Foreign Influence on 2021 Liberal Candidate

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Allegations surfaced during the foreign interference inquiry that the federal elections watchdog took years to investigate claims that a 2021 Liberal candidate received undisclosed donations from individuals linked to China.

Evidence presented during the March 28 hearing on alleged Chinese election interference suggested that the federal elections commissioner showed limited interest in the matter.

Prior to the 2021 federal election, members of the Chinese community were invited to a free banquet in Vancouver’s Chinatown Plaza via the social media platform WeChat. The event featured Josh Vander Vies, the Liberal candidate for Vancouver East, who was competing against NDP MP Jenny Kwan.

The organizer of the banquet, Fred Kwok, reportedly had ties to groups critical of MPs denouncing Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghur minority as genocide. Mr. Kwok funded and posted the invitation for the lunch himself, according to reports referenced in a memo from the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections Task Force (SITE).

MP Kwan, identified as a target of foreign interference by CSIS, expressed concerns about the event’s funding to the elections commission and filed a complaint on September 7, 2021.

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An initial investigation into the incident lasted for more than two years, resulting in a $500 fine for Mr. Vander Vies due to inadequate campaign record-keeping. The candidate lost to Ms. Kwan in the 2021 election by a margin of 18,000 votes.

Two years later, Ms. Kwan revisited the issue with the elections commission in an email dated August 10, 2023, expressing disappointment at the lack of action taken. Legal counsel for Ms. Kwan, Mr. Sujit Choudhry, demanded an explanation from Elections Commissioner Caroline Simard.

During the inquiry, concerns were raised about potential violations of the Canada Elections Act related to foreign influence in election campaigns, but the commissioner focused on a different section of the Act related to campaign expense reporting.

Instead of addressing foreign interference directly, the commissioner handled the case as a failure to provide accurate campaign expense statements, resulting in a $500 fine for Mr. Vander Vies.

Mr. Choudhry criticized the commissioner for not definitively ruling out foreign interference and questioned the handling of the case in light of potential violations of the Canada Elections Act.

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