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Alleged Chinese attempt to interfere in Vancouver election sparks anger

Allegations that Vancouver's Chinese consulate sought to interfere with last year's municipal election reverberated through the city's political class on Thursday.

Mayor Ken Sim and former mayor Kennedy Stewart each fielded questions about an article in the Globe and Mail documenting a secret report from Canada's spy agency about efforts by China’s then-consul-general, Tong Xiaoling, to mentor or "groom" Chinese-Canadian municipal politicians for higher office to advance Chinese interests.

In the article, Stewart revealed that agents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had approached him in May 2022 to discuss Chinese interference in the city.

Speaking to CTV News Vancouver on Thursday, the former mayor said he doesn't believe his loss in last year's election was due to foreign interference, but added that he found the CSIS allegation that local politicians could be working to advance Chinese interests "super serious."

Stewart, who was mayor from late 2018 to late 2022, recalled positive interactions with the Chinese consulate early in his term. He said his relationship with the consulate soured as relations between Canada and China worsened over the detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver and of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China.

The former mayor said he attended events at which Xiaoling publicly "denounced" him and the Canadian government more broadly, and said the former consul general "made it pretty clear" that she'd prefer if someone else was in the Vancouver mayor's office.

"It seemed like they were openly after me," Stewart said. "And it didn't surprise me when the Globe and Mail said that they were working behind the scenes to kind of make sure I wasn't re-elected."


At an announcement with federal officials Thursday, current Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim was asked about the Globe and Mail report.

He said he wasn't aware of any interference in the October election, and – asked if he believed he and his A Better City Vancouver party won the election "fair and square" – touted the tremendous amount of effort he and his team put into their campaign.

"We worked our butts off," Sim said.

"To say that any one person or group swung an election, I think it's kind of crazy. I think it's disrespectful to all the people that ran as part of ABC. I think it's disrespectful to every person who volunteered."

Sim's party won majorities on city council, school board and park board, and every candidate that ran under the party's banner was elected.

In the mayoral race, Sim defeated Stewart by more than 35,000 votes.

The current mayor also said he was disappointed by the suggestion that his election was somehow illegitimate, and the message such a suggestion might send to visible minorities and other marginalized groups.

"I'm the first Canadian person of Chinese descent to become a mayor of a major Canadian city, and there are groups that are making insinuations about how we got there, and frankly I find it incredibly disappointing," Sim said.

In response to a follow-up question, he added:

"I'll just say it. If I was a Caucasian male, we're not having this conversation."


The Globe article indicates that the secret document refers to a Vancouver council candidate that the former consul general took an interest in "grooming" for future campaigns and higher offices.

The candidate in question is not named in the document, according to the Globe.

Lenny Zhou was elected to Vancouver City Council with Sim's ABC Vancouver party. On Thursday, he took to Twitter to reiterate what he told the newspaper, describing himself as an advocate of free speech and democracy and disputing allegations that he had expressed pro-Beijing views at an event in recent years.

On Thursday evening, Louis Huang, who was quoted in the Globe and Mail article identifying Zhou as having attended the event, issued an apology, saying he was not sure that Zhou was the person who attended the meeting, and no one else in his group remembers Zhou attending either.

Russil Wvong, who ran for council with Stewart's Forward Together party, also defended Zhou on social media, describing Zhou as a friend and saying he was "annoyed" by the suggestion that Zhou could have been the candidate being groomed by the CCP. 

"I’d describe Lenny’s political views as pro-democracy and anti-CCP (Chinese Communist Party)," Wvong wrote on Twitter.

"The Chinese consul might have thought he was a good target, but that just illustrates that the CCP isn’t omniscient."


News of China's apparent attempts to interfere with Vancouver's municipal election comes against a backdrop of calls for a public inquiry into foreign powers' interference in Canadian elections more broadly.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the appointment of former governor general David Johnston as an independent "special rapporteur" looking into the issue. 

In a statement Thursday, CSIS acknowledged that it has "identified foreign interference in Canada and targeting of Canadians by the People's Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party as the most significant strategic threat to the security of Canada."

"To be clear, the threat does not come from the Chinese people, but rather the CCP that is pursuing a strategy for geopolitical advantage on all fronts – economic, technological, political, and military – and using all elements of state power to carry out activities that are a direct threat to our national security and sovereignty," CSIS said.

The agency said it could neither confirm nor deny the authenticity of the information in the Globe and Mail article about Vancouver elections.

Both Stewart and Sim expressed a desire for the federal government to take allegations of election interference seriously and work to make the electoral system more resilient.

"I can't speak for the federal government, but as a resident of Canada, I wholeheartedly support anything we can do to make our institutions stronger," Sim said.

"What I'm really hoping is that the Governor General takes his job as a special rapporteur seriously and says, 'We've got a problem here,'" said Stewart.

"It's not just at the federal level. We should be having a countrywide, whole-of-government investigation about what's going on here." 

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Spencer Harwood Top Stories

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