Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee, for dedicating your time to study the threat posed by disinformation to election integrity and, indeed, the cohesion of our entire democracy.
My name is Marcus Kolga. I've been monitoring, analyzing and exposing Russian disinformation for the past 15 years. In 2020, I started DisinfoWatch, a platform dedicated to exposing foreign disinformation narratives with the support of the U.S. State Department and Journalists for Human Rights, under the roof of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. DisinfoWatch was initially focused on tracking foreign disinformation about COVID-19. We expanded its scope in 2021, and we were actively tracking foreign narratives during the last federal election.
In the weeks before the September 20, 2021, election, we were alerted to Chinese state media narratives that directly targeted the Conservative Party and its leader, Erin O’Toole. Simultaneously, members of the Chinese Canadian community brought to our attention similar narratives appearing on local Canadian Chinese-language media platforms and the Chinese social media channel WeChat. WeChat is commonly regarded as a tool used by the Chinese government for surveillance and repression.
On September 9, 2021, the Chinese Communist Party-owned tabloid Global Times published an article attacking the Conservative Party’s foreign policy platform. The Global Times article threatened Canadians that if they elected a Conservative government, Canadians should expect “strong counter strike and Canada will be the one to suffer”.
At the same time, an anonymous article was posted to WeChat targeting an incumbent MP, Kenny Chiu. In September 2021, Chiu introduced a private member's bill to create a Canadian foreign influence registry modelled on existing Australian and U.S. legislation. The registry law would have required individuals and groups acting on behalf of identified foreign authoritarian regimes, such as Russia, North Korea, Iran or China, to identify and register themselves. This would have threatened Chinese government influence operations in Canada. The anonymous WeChat article falsely accused Chiu of seeking to “suppress the Chinese community” through his bill.
Both the Global Times and WeChat narratives were shared on local Chinese Canadian digital and social media platforms.
According to Taiwan’s leading disinformation analysis NGO, Doublethink, Chinese state actors often use low-level disinformation disseminated on chat platforms—