How Serious Is Canada About Combating Foreign Interference? – OpEd


What is Canada really hoping to uncover from the impending much-hyped inquiry into foreign interference in its politics? And, how will Canadians respond to the findings of an independent, thorough inquiry that will show up their conflicted worldviews?

For more than 13 hours, the Globe and Mail’s website had nothing about the murder of a Canadian who had long been accused by the Indian government of instigating a Sikh separatist movement in India.

The ultra-slow reporting of an important piece of breaking news at Canada’s “most prestigious and influential news journal” followed by the continuing silence of its crusading columnists is astonishing. Almost indefensible, given how, for months, the paper had led the nation on a campaign of fear, loathing, denunciation, and supposed truth-seeking against foreign interference in Canadian politics.

Guru Nanak Gurdwara president Hardeep Singh Nijjar was gunned down outside his temple in Surrey city in British Columbia on June 18 at 8.27 p.m. The story was widely reported by media outlets in Canada and abroad long before it appeared on the Globe and Mail website the following day at around 10 a.m.

The stench of foreign interference is overwhelming, necessitating Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino to hold an emergency meeting with Sikh Canadian politicians fearing more deadly violence awaits.

Days before the shooting, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had warned Nijjar that there were death threats against him. As a person of political significance, he had to be alerted by the Canadian spy agency, and was supposed to have met the agent who had tipped him off, according to the Vancouver Sun.

In an interview with journalist Gurpreet Singh, Nijjar had spoken openly about death threats and death itself as the ultimate price for his struggle for the creation of the Sikh state of Khalistan in India. He was on the wanted list of India’s counter-terrorism agency with a bounty on his head. In 2018, the National Investigation Agency accused him of “conspiring and planning to carry out a major terrorist attack in India” which he and his supporters have denied. At the time of his death, he was reportedly organizing a referendum for a separate Sikh state in India. As far as the Indian government is concerned, the 45-year-old Canadian was an agent of foreign interference in its domestic affairs and an existential threat to India’s political integrity.

If Nijjar’s murder is indeed tied to the Khalistan cause, Canada too would have to confront it as a foreign interference issue. The shooting and the numerous threats preceding it fit the description of a Canadian national being “targeted” by foreign interests for exercising his political views. Was it a coincidence that three days earlier, 35-year-old Avtar Singh Khanda, another accused Sikh separatist leader, died in seemingly unclear circumstances in London, U.K.? In May, Paramjit Singh Panjwar, also wanted by the Indian government on Khalistan-related terrorism charges, was shot dead in Lahore, Pakistan.

Canada and India trade foreign interference accusations

Nijjar’s case is a deadly reminder that Canada’s story in the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 within the Khalistan cause is far from over. All 329 people on that plane, mostly Canadians, were killed, making it the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history. Nijjar had denied any connection to last July’s killing of Ripudaman Singh Malik, the man who was acquitted in the bombing, according to India’s Hindustan Times

Nijjar, Malik, the Air India bombing, and Khalistan have put the domestic politics of India and Canada on a collision course for the long term. Representatives of both countries have accused each other of engaging in “foreign interference” in their respective domestic politics.

Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), who has been demanding to know the truth about China’s interference in Canadian politics, will fear the far more serious and personal challenge of India. For years, Singh himself has been accused of being a Khalistan supporter, which, in India’s eyes, makes him an agent of foreign interference. 

The World Sikh Organization (WSO) immediately called Nijjar’s murder an assassination and blamed it on India’s interference in Canadian politics.

“Nijjar had publicly spoken of the threat to his life for months and said that he would be targeted by Indian intelligence agencies. The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and local law enforcement were aware of the threat to Nijjar as well as other Sikh activists in Canada,” said the WSO in a statement.

“Supporters of assassinated B.C. Sikh temple leader worry for their own safety,” proclaimed a CBC news headline as a group of Khalistan-supporting Sikhs protested against “foreign interference” outside the Indian consulate in Vancouver. 

“The CSIS have spoken to several community figures and Sikh activists here in Canada about an ongoing threat that is posed to their lives,” Jasveer Singh Gill, a senior press officer for the Sikh Press Association, was quoted as saying. The Sikhs For Justice group’s general counsel Gurpatwant Singh Pannun has accused “Indian government officials” of ordering Nijjar’s murder.

In early June, Canada’s national security adviser Jody Thomas named India as among the most active foreign countries interfering in Canada’s politics. Canada’s Sikhs agree. They want a public inquiry to examine how India’s intelligence sector uses consulates and embassies to operate in Canada’s diaspora communities.

Indians are outraged and have volleyed back at Canada.

India’s foreign minister, S. Jaishankar, criticized Thomas’s comment as “a case of the pot calling the kettle black”. He accused Canada of giving “space…to separatists, to extremists, to people who advocate violence” to threaten India.

In March, the Indian government summoned Canada’s ambassador to protest against the “actions of separatists and extremist elements against our diplomatic missions in Canada.”

In 2019, the chief minister of India’s Punjab state accused Canada of threatening India by harbouring “Sikh extremists”.

“India had, for too long, been soft towards Canada and needed to crack its whip aggressively, even seek UN sanctions if needed, to end the growing threat once and for all,” reported the National Post, citing the government of Punjab state.

The Hindu Post said Canada “harbours Khalistani terrorism” while ABP Network denounced Canada for allowing pro-Khalistan groups on its soil to maintain “an organized challenge to Indian sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

So, who is right, and who will have the last word?

For now, Canada and India can pretend to have kept a lid on their quarrel due to China’s emergence as a threat to both countries. Canadian pundits, as illustrated by the Globe and Mail’s lack of comment on Nijjar’s murder, are too invested in the China Threat story to highlight the influence of other countries in Canada’s increasingly complex domestic politics. The same can be said of the columnists at the Postmedia’s network of national newspapers, and the talk show hosts at the CBC, Global News, and CTV. On July 5, 17 days after the killing, Terry Glavin became the first mainstream columnist to weigh in on the story. He sided with the Indian government. In so doing, he has exposed Canadians’ double standards. If Glavin is correct, Canadians have been interfering in India’s politics at the same time that they have been demanding other countries not interfere in Canada’s politics.

There is still no Canadian discourse, let alone a narrative, about Khalistan which explains why 80 percent of Canadians are unaware of the Air India bombing, the deadliest terrorist attack on their country. 

All eyes on China

In Canada today, “foreign interference” means “Chinese”. 

As their economic condition darkens alongside rising fears of global conflicts, Canadians want a clear-cut villain, a role that China has obligingly risen to fulfil.

China has created its own bad press in the West and several Asian countries. Under supreme leader Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has deservedly earned recognition for its total approach to repressionsurveillancehuman rights abuses, aggressive wolf-warrior diplomacy, and worsening territorial disputes with neighbouring countries. China’s security machinery has expanded its target list of influence and intimidation beyond the ethnic Chinese diaspora to include officials, businesspeople, and opinion leaders of other countries who disagree with Beijing. 

According to the CSIS and media reports, Michael Chong, the foreign affairs critic of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), Erin O’Toole, the CPC’s most recent former leader, and Jenny Kwan, a New Democratic Party (NDP) member of parliament, among others, have been targeted for criticizing China’s human rights record, abuse of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang region, and expansion of military activities in Southeast Asia.

But what does “being targeted” by China really mean? So far, CSIS and the three politicians have not revealed the full extent of how they have been threatened.

Chong, the most vocal of the trio, has berated Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ruling Liberal Party government for allegedly failing to protect Canadians from China’s influence and intimidation operations on Canadian soil. Chong cited his own case in a heated exchange with Foreign Minister Melanie Joly. Apparently, his family in Hong Kong had been threatened, but he only found out about it through a Globe and Mail story.

Chong has become the personification of “a reasonable man gone angry”. The media has rallied to his cause and joined the Conservatives in clobbering the prime minister for being China’s enabler.

Chong had the opportunity to underline the severity of the China Threat on May 16. Instead, he chickened out. Testifying before the House of Commons Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, he seemed unsure when asked to elaborate on his ordeal and fears.

He vaguely recalled an “apparent targeting” of his family in Hong Kong. He “believed” the threats “could be coming from the Chinese government”. Despite the National Post’s attempt to portray him as strong and credible, Chong sounded weak and spoke without conviction.

So, what was the nature of the threats, and how were they conveyed? Why did Chong believe the threats “could be” from the Chinese government, and not some other entities? Who were his family members in Hong Kong who were allegedly targeted?

“As with many Canadians with family in authoritarian states, I long ago deliberately made the decision not to communicate with them,” he said.

If he had not been in contact with his Hong Kong relatives for years and does not “know what’s happened to them,” how did he conclude that they were being threatened? What did CSIS tell him? How did the threats relate to Chong being a senior Canadian politician sanctioned by Beijing? Hypothetically, could his Hong Kong relatives have been involved in a business deal gone wrong, and were “threatened” with legal action by a Chinese state agency? It is anyone’s guess. 

Chong’s failed appearance before the committee undermined his narrative.

Reporter Ryan Tumilty did not mention if the committee had pressed Chong for details. Apparently, neither did Tumilty nor other reporters.

Chong hurriedly buried his story before anyone could question him further: “I don’t think the details of the threats are useful for the committee.”

He doubled down by insisting that “he couldn’t be more specific even if the committee were to move in camera,” according to the National Post report.

Why did the committee allow him off so easily? Shouldn’t it be for the committee, and not Chong, to decide if the details of the alleged threats are useful?

Considering he had been raging against China for weeks, his sudden evasiveness is puzzling. Could it be that he sensed his claims were never serious enough to warrant police action?

Chong’s credibility on the China file deflated after that testimony. The media’s too, for failing to question him.

O’Toole and Kwan fared no better either, repeating the “foreign interference” and “foreign threat” mantra with little evidence for backup. O’Toole’s credibility took a big dive last year for his unsubstantiated claims that China’s interference had cost the Conservatives eight to nine seats in the 2021 election. Kwan said she did not even notice the interference when it was happening. How serious were these threats if she was even not aware they were being made against her or her family? The public is once again left in the dark.

The CSIS appeared to downgrade their story by announcing that Beijing and its agents had not threatened “physical harm” against Canadian MPs or their families. This probably goes some way to explain why the government took no action on reports of Chinese interference.

Contrast that with Nijjar, who was repeatedly warned by CSIS and others that his life was in danger — correctly as it turned out — at the same time that the Indian government had called him a terrorist and offered a reward for his capture. Take note the difference between being “allegedly targeted” by India and China.

America’s Canada

Foreign powers have been deeply involved in Canada’s politics since its founding in 1867. Canada itself was a creation of foreign interference when English and French colonizers seized North America from its indigenous peoples.

In modern times, the United States has used its superior power and physical proximity to become Canada’s dominant foreign influencer. The U.S. government and American interest groups have never been shy about interfering in Canadian affairs to advance their various causes.

In 1962 and 1963, President John. F. Kennedy intervened to help his preferred Canadian political party, Lester Pearson’s Liberals, bring down John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservative government. Former president Barack Obama, rather than China’s Xi Jinping despite media reports, openly campaigned for his friend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to be returned to power in the 2019 election.

A Conservative party member, Stephen Taylor, blasted Obama’s endorsement of Trudeau: “Canadians were worried about Russian interference, maybe Chinese interference. Looks like the foreign interference in our election was to be American!”.

There were no protests from Canada’s Conservative Party and mainstream media against American interference.

Canada’s ambassador to Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis in Tehran later proudly revealed he was a CIA spy. No one has asked, much less criticized, why Ken Taylor had been allowed to serve U.S. interests while officially employed by the Canadian government. More recently, Port Coquitlam’s mayor was found to be simultaneously employed as a vice president for the powerful U.S. Steelworkers Union. Brad West, who has achieved national fame for calling out China’s influence operations and interference in Canada’s politics, was paid as much for his lobbyist work for American workers as his mayoral duties. Like Taylor, West has not met with serious public scrutiny for his less-than-transparent work for a U.S. organization. Did Taylor and West facilitate American interference in Canada’s politics?

We may never know as Taylor died in 2015 while West has unilaterally ruled that there is no concern about any perceived or potential conflict of interest in his serving two masters. “My record speaks for itself,” he declared. The media has duly accepted his “explanation”.

Harold Steves, the recently retired veteran councillor of Richmond city, is a respected climate campaigner who tweeted that “the Steelworkers Union is notorious for interfering in Canadian politics.” His tweet also cited West’s support for the industrial development of Little Campbell River at the expense of Surrey city’s forests and farmland. 

Steves was replying to a thread by journalist Terry Glavin who cited West’s comment on foreign interference: “What is at stake is the foundations of our democracy.” Would the interest of U.S. steelworkers count as part of the foundations of Canada’s democracy?

Diane Francis, a frequent critic of China, believes that “U.S. interference has been even more damaging than China’s.”

The editor-at-large at the National Post, a right-wing newspaper owned by the U.S.-controlled Postmedia Group, blames American environmentalists for Trudeau’s green agenda for hobbling Alberta’s oil and gas industry.

“American activists have poked their noses into Canada’s resource sector for years, as has Russia indirectly, in order to strand the oilsands, the world’s third largest reserve of petroleum,” she wrote.

“Instead of protecting and leveraging this incredible resource endowment, the Trudeau government has done nothing to fend them off.”

Environmentalists have made the reverse accusation that the U.S. fossil fuels industry is interfering in Canada’s energy and climate policies.

“Oil corporations in Alberta and Canada are overwhelmingly foreign-owned,” wrote Gordon Laxer in a 2021 report. Many of them are owned by or controlled by U.S. shareholders.

He argued that “Big Foreign Oil”, posing as Canadian, deliberately hinders climate action in Canada by capturing and controlling the lion’s share of the industry, policy-making, and profits. 

The COVID pandemic also served up another reminder of America’s tight grip on Canadian affairs.

In early 2022, a convoy of truck drivers and protestors practically shut down Ottawa city for several weeks in their nationwide campaign to end the Federal government’s COVID vaccine mandates and restrictions. The Freedom Convoy also briefly closed off vital trade routes between Canada and the U.S. by blockading border crossings in Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, and B.C.

The blockades were finally ended when Trudeau evoked the Emergencies Act, the first time such a drastic measure was taken in Canada’s history. Fox News, the right-wing U.S. news channel, described Trudeau’s action as a declaration of “martial law.”

Unrecognized by most Canadians, Americans played a key role on both ends of the standoff. While Freedom Convoy was cheered on by Trump supporters and sections of the Republican Party, it also triggered other Americans, including President Joseph Biden and his supporters in the Democratic Party. 

The convoy grew huge and threatening partly because it received financial support from anti-vaxxers in the U.S.

As the blockades started to pinch the U.S. economy while Ottawa watched helplessly, Biden intervened. On February 11, 2022, he warned Trudeau “that U.S. companies and workers are experiencing serious effects, including slowdowns in production, shortened work hours, and plant closures.”

Trudeau complied immediately. According to a White House statement, Canada’s prime minister “promised quick action in enforcing the law, and the President thanked him for the steps he and other Canadian authorities are taking to restore the open passage of bridges to the United States.”

While the Canadian media dressed up Trudeau’s response as his initiative, there was no hiding the fact that Biden had given Trudeau and Canada their marching orders. 

The U.K.’s Daily Mail was blunt and accurate: “Biden ordered Trudeau to end freedom convoy over fears US car plants would close within hours.”

The Canadian media later published a few brief stories about foreign interference in the rise and fall of Freedom Convoy, but these were immediately swept away by the focus on China.

In Canada, it is much easier to sell foreign interference as Chinese than American, Indian, and others. This will be the first finding of an independent and thorough inquiry.

* Ng Weng Hoong is a veteran journalist who started his career in Singapore in 1982, focused mostly on the energy industry in Asia and the Middle East. In recent years, he has shifted to writing about China and Chinese issues from his base in Vancouver in Canada’s British Columbia province. This commentary originally appeared on his blog,

Canadian Press, June 23, 2023. Fears of foreign role in B.C. Sikh temple killing prompt meeting with minister: MP
Kim Bolan, June 18, 2023. Surrey temple leader gunned down in his vehicle Sunday night
Charlie Smith, June 19, 2023. Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar talked about being murdered before being gunned down
The Hindu, June 19, 2023. Wanted Khalistan Tiger Force chief Hardeep Singh Nijjar gunned down in Canadian city Surrey
Rahul Kalvapalle  Global News. May 5, 2018. India could seek extradition of alleged Sikh militant based in Surrey, B.C.
The Canadian Press, June 20, 2023. Supporters of assassinated B.C. Sikh temple leader worry for their own safety Outlook India, June 15, 2023. Avtar Singh Khanda dies in London Indian Express, May 7, 2023. Who was Paramjit Singh Panjwar, the wanted terrorist shot dead in Lahore The Government of Canada, July 27, 2022. Response to the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182 Anirudh Bhattacharyya, July 19, 2022. Nijjar denies involvement in killing of Ripudaman Malik in Canada John Paul Tasker, CBC News, March 14, 2018. Jagmeet Singh defends appearance at Sikh independence rally OpIndia, February 26, 2021. NRIs in Canada protest outside Khalistani sympathiser and Canadian MP Jagmeet Singh’s office World Sikh Organization, June 19, 2023. Nijjar assassination a failure of Canadian intelligence agencies The Canadian Press, June 20, 2023. Supporters of assassinated B.C. Sikh temple leader worry for their own safety The Canadian Press, June 24, 2023. Sikh community rallies at Indian consulate in Vancouver, decrying gurdwara shooting as foreign interference The Canadian Press, June 5, 2023. India among top actors for foreign interference in Canada: national security adviser Catharine Tunney, CBC News, March 21, 2023. A public probe of foreign election interference should also look at India, Sikh organizations say Times of India, June 8, 2023. India is upset with Canada Shemin Joy, DHNS, June 8 2023. India hits out at Canada for giving space to separatists, extremists elements Arindam Bagchi, India’s Ministry of External Affairs, March 25, 2023. India lodges strong protest with Canada. Tom Blackwell, June 27, 2019. Leader of India’s Punjab calls for sanctions against Canada if it does not crack down on Sikh extremists Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, April 5, 2023. Canada harbors Khalistani terrorism Ananya Bhardwaj, 19 June, 2023. ‘Plumber’ to ‘terrorist’ — who was Hardeep Nijjar, Khalistan Tiger Force chief shot dead in Canada Ranjit Kumar, June 11, 2023. Canada is silent on Khalistan issue Terry Glavin, July 5, 2023. About time Canada stood clearly against Khalistani extremism Srushti Gangdev, CBC News, June 22, 2023, Most Canadians don’t know about the bombing of Air India, the worst terrorist attack in Canada’s history: poll Katja Drinhausen and HelenaLegarda, September 15, 2022. “Comprehensive National Security” unleashed Zeyi Yang, October 10, 2022. The Chinese surveillance state proves that the idea of privacy is more “malleable” than you’d expect
Human Rights Watch, April 19, 2021. China’s crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims Reuters, May 11, 2023. China undeterred in campaign to pressure critics abroad despite Western backlash Postmedia News, June 29, 2023, Editorial: PM bobs and weaves on foreign interference Stephanie Levitz, May 7, 2023. Michael Chong reveals why his story should concern Canadians CTV News, May 4, 2023. Michael Chong has fiery exchange with Melanie Joly Andrew House, May 4, 2023. There are few things more powerful than a reasonable man gone angry. Ryan Tumilty, May 16, 2023. MP Michael Chong says he has received personal threats, in addition to threats on his family Thomson Reuters · March 27, 2021. China announces sanctions on Canadians, including MP Michael Chong Ng Weng Hoong, July 10, 2022. Sinophobia with Canadian characteristics Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press, June 3, 2023. “I will not bend”: Vancouver MP Jenny Kwan says she won’t allow China to erase history Alex Boutilier, Global News, May 12, 2023. Beijing is targeting MPs, but not with threats of ‘physical harm’: CSIS Steven Chase, June 13, 2023. Former NSA told MPs he read the July 2021 CSIS intelligence assessment but took no action because he did not consider it a call to action.
The Canadian Press, November 20, 2013. JFK secretly sent electoral agents into Canada to help elect the Liberals
Marshall Palmer, November 4, 2019. Thunberg and Obama: Did they interfere in the Canadian election? Barack Obama, October 16, 2019. I was proud to work with Justin Trudeau as President. I hope our neighbors to the north support him for another term. Justin Trudeau, October 16, 2019. Trudeau thanks Obama for the endorsement Marc Montgomery, Radio Canada International, October 17, 2019. American interference in Canada’s election? Rachel Aiello, CTV, October 16, 2019. Obama weighs in on Canada’s federal election, backs Trudeau CityNews, January 24, 2010. Former Canadian ambassador to Iran was a CIA spy
Charlie Smith, May 6, 2020. Port Coquitlam mayor Brad West’s Steelworkers salary revealed in union disclosure to U.S. government Harold Steves, November 11, 2022. The Steelworkers Union is notorious for interfering in Canadian politics Diane Strandberg. May 7, 2020. “My record speaks for itself,” as Port Coquitlam mayor’s 2nd salary revealed Graeme Wood, February 26, 2022. Metro Vancouver board votes to industrialize Surrey’s Little Campbell River area Diane Francis, March 13, 2023. U.S. interference has been even more damaging than China’s Gordon Laxer, December 2021. Posing as Canadian: How Big Foreign Oil captures Canadian energy and climate policy Catharine Tunney, CBC News, February 14, 2022. Federal government invokes Emergencies Act for first time ever in response to protests, blockades Fox News, Tucker Carlson: The Emergencies Act is martial law. February 16, 2022 Graeme Wood, February 26, 2022. Metro Vancouver board votes to industrialize Surrey’s Little Campbell River area Jon Woodward, CTV News, February 10, 2022. American donors to trucker convoy may be outnumbering Canadians: CTV News analysis White House, February 11, 2022. Readout of President Biden’s Call With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada Rachel Aiello, CTVNews, February 11, 2022. PM says ‘everything’ on the table to end blockades following Biden call Stephen M. Lepore, 25 November 2022. Biden ordered Trudeau to end freedom convoy over fears US car plants would close within hours Alex Boutilier  Global News, October 25, 2022. Foreign ‘adversaries’ may have leveraged ‘freedom movement’ to advance agendas: memo

Ng Weng Hoong

Ng Weng Hoong is a veteran journalist who started his career in Singapore in 1982, focused mostly on the energy industry in Asia and the Middle East. In recent years, he has shifted to writing about China and Chinese issues from his base in Vancouver in Canada’s British Columbia province.

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