Fears that 'foreign interference' investigations could stoke anti-Asian sentiment
As far as the allegations about foreign interference go, the details are murky.
An anonymous source has leaked information to journalists, suggesting China has tried to influence Canadian election outcomes to help elect candidates favourable to the regime.
While official information is hard to come by, what's clear to Henry Yu, an associate professor of history at the University of British Columbia, is the target.
"Going back to accusations of Chinese money laundering, of Chinese foreign buyers being (scapegoated) for the high housing prices in B.C., there's this long trend of the accusation that China is the ill that's causing all our problems," Yu explained.
Yu also pointed to the rise in anti-Asian hate during the pandemic. He said with various investigations underway into whether there was foreign interference in Canadian elections, the framing of the issue – which he acknowledges is a serious one – is crucial.
That's why he and several academics released an open letter saying the allegations should be investigated but not racialized.
The letter reads in part, "We are deeply concerned that discussions of foreign interference and national security can quickly become toxic as we have already seen in the accusations that a respected Chinese Canadian senator and a newly elected mayor are agents of the Chinese government."
The letter is addressed to former governor general David Johnston, who was appointed by Ottawa to look into the concerns and determine whether a public inquiry is needed.
One of Yu's concerns is understanding why information from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was leaked, what impact that has on the investigation.
"CSIS is not a diverse organization and they're not particularly good at gathering information about communities that speak other languages and look different," added Yu.
Last week, Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim, responding to reports China interfered in last year's municipal elections, said the conversation would be non-existent if he were white.
Yu agrees, noting he feels the onus is now on Canadians of Chinese descent to prove they are loyal.
"Even if Ken Sim or if I come and say, 'I'm a loyal Canadian,' once this kind of taint of suspicion and guilt by association is put on you, you're actually trying to disprove something," he added.
In Ottawa, the Liberals are under fire about what they knew – and when – about potential interference. A parliamentary committee will hear from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's chief of staff, but the Liberals have already said Katie Telford will be limited in what she can say due to security concerns.
A report with recommendations is expected from Johnston by May 23.
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