Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s top aide on Friday refused to say when Trudeau first learned about allegations that China tampered with recent elections, citing security concerns.
Canadian authorities have started several investigations into the allegations of interference in Canada’s 2019 and 2021 elections, accusations that Beijing denies.
Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, spoke in Ottawa to a parliamentary committee looking into alleged Chinese election interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections, which Trudeau’s Liberals won.
“These matters are extremely sensitive and the law limits what I can talk about in this public setting,” Telford told the committee, at the start of 2-1/2 hours of testimony.
Telford later said it was “quite possible” that Trudeau was briefed around January 2022 about alleged China interference in the 2019 election.
Opposition legislators said Telford’s limited answers were frustrating.
“Today she was asked a series of simple questions, that did not require top security clearance. And yet, there was a failure to give proper answers,” said Conservative legislator Rachel Thomas.
Hours before the committee meeting, the government’s national security and intelligence adviser released to the committee documents listing formal briefings that Trudeau received.
Trudeau has received at least five formal briefings from security officials about foreign interference since 2021, according to the documents, which Reuters has seen.
Trudeau says that China attempted to meddle in the elections, but did not change the outcome. He has pointed to closed-door, bipartisan investigations that found attempted foreign interference was unsuccessful.
Canadian media outlets have published detailed reports, citing anonymous intelligence sources, alleging schemes run by the Chinese government to interfere in Canada’s last two elections. Beijing has denied those allegations, saying it has no interest in interfering in Canada’s internal affairs.
Trudeau’s main rivals, the Conservatives, have pounced on the media reports as evidence that Trudeau has not dealt forcefully enough with China during his more than seven years in power.
Tensions between China and Canada soared in late 2018 when Canadian police detained an executive of the Chinese company Huawei Technologies Co, which was followed by Beijing’s arrest of two Canadians on spying charges. All three were freed in 2021.