Two of Vancouver’s mayoral candidates have spoken with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service ahead of the upcoming election.
Candidate Ken Sim says he personally approached CSIS after learning in June that incumbent Kennedy Stewart spoke about being debriefed regarding foreign interference in municipal policy and elections.
In May, CSIS officials gave Stewart a booklet titled “Foreign interference and you,” an unclassified document that is available on CSIS’s website. It lists “common techniques” used by actors to interfere in government, including elicitation, illicit financing, relationship building, blackmail, cyber tools and social media manipulation.
Sim’s campaign team admonished Stewart when he first spoke in June, claiming his revelations further stoked anti-Asian sentiment in the city. Sim criticized Stewart for divulging how his meeting included discussions on the People’s Republic of China.
“You know what the other standard operating procedure is? Don’t talk about your conversations with CSIS,” said Sim during a campaign stop in Vancouver on Sept. 29.
Neither Sim nor his managers would confirm nor deny if they had been proactively briefed by CSIS as Stewart was. Sim would also not discuss the topics of the conversation he had with intelligence officials.
Among the three leading mayoral challengers, Sim is the only one to have sat down with CSIS.
Colleen Hardwick of the TEAM slate stated in June, and again in September that she has not met with CSIS during her campaigning, while Mark Marissen of Progress Vancouver stated in June he had not met with CSIS.
Akshay Singh, a non-resident research fellow at the Council on International Policy, said CSIS will only get involved in briefings if it believes there to be clandestine or deceptive activity occurring or a threat to a person.
"The challenge with China is that they don't necessarily always do it overtly. And this is where the whole United Front really comes in. And it is hugely problematic," said Singh in reference to the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign influence arm.
“When you have groups that are affiliated with the United Front Work Department only affiliating themselves with certain people, then the valid question to ask is, ‘why?’’” said Singh.
“And the answer, to me, is they believe that person will carry out their interests; not just United Front interests, but community association interests.”
Singh said Vancouver’s mayor can be an important ally for the Chinese government’s objectives in B.C. — namely resource extraction, trade and partnerships on technology.
"Mayors can be very powerful in directing economic policy for the greater Vancouver regional area, which is immensely important to the Chinese government,” said Singh.
Singh said CSIS will brief candidates across the political spectrum, and while the rationale may differ, the briefings will be nearly identical so as to remain non-partisan.
With files from Mike Howell