Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you for inviting me to appear tonight.
The last several weeks have been a trying time for me and my family, but it is important to note that my case is only one of many cases of Canadians who have been threatened on Canadian soil by authoritarian governments and have suffered in silence. It is my hope that real change will result from what has happened, change that will strengthen our national security and intelligence to better protect all Canadians and Canadian institutions.
Here is a brief outline of the facts concerning my case.
I first became aware that Mr. Wei Zhao, a PRC consular official, was collecting information on my family in the PRC from his post in Toronto in a Globe and Mail report of May 1, 2023. The report indicated that Mr. Zhao was collecting this information for further potential sanctions to put pressure on me and other MPs with respect to debates going on in the House of Commons. According to a Globe and Mail report of February 13, 2023, a national security source had previously described Mr. Zhao as a suspected intelligence actor.
Two years prior, on June 24, 2021, I was briefed by CSIS on foreign interference threat activities. This briefing was general in nature and did not contain any information about Mr. Zhao. Between that first briefing I received from CSIS on June 24, 2021, and May 1, 2023, no one ever informed me that Mr. Zhao was collecting information on my family from his posting here in Canada.
I recommend, Madam Chair, that Mr. Wei Zhao be censured by the House for his foreign interference threat activities targeting a Canadian member of Parliament. This would send a clear message to any person in Canada who would engage in these activities that Parliament will take action to defend its members.
Clearly, Mr. Zhao and representatives of the PRC in Canada have been coercively and corruptly targeting MPs on both sides of the aisle to put pressure on MPs with respect to foreign policy. In order to identify where the systemic problems are, I recommend that the committee obtain the documents and tracking records related to the July 20, 2021, CSIS intelligence assessment entitled “People's Republic of China Foreign Interference in Canada: A Critical National Security Threat”.
Madam Chair, I understand from earlier testimony that an MOU has been entered into whereby CSIS notifies the House of Commons if a member might be under threat by a foreign government. In light of this MOU, I recommend that CSIS inform an individual MP directly about specific, detailed foreign interference threat activities targeting them and their family, including the identity of the persons involved in those threat activities.
I also recommend that CSIS inform the Speaker of the identity of any persons in Canada involved in foreign interference threat activities targeting MPs and their families so that the Speaker can inform all members of the House of Commons of the identities of these persons.
CSIS has consistently advised that sunlight and transparency are tools that Canada can use to combat foreign interference threat activities so that the details of these threat activities are made public. That way, MPs, citizens, parties and candidates can make informed decisions about what is going on.
A similar protocol is in place in the U.K. House of Commons and appears to have been used at least twice in the last couple of years. Last year, MI5 informed the U.K. Speaker of Ms. Christine Lee, an agent of the PRC who was engaged in foreign interference threat activities. The Speaker subsequently notified all MPs via email about this individual. In another example, all British MPs were alerted by the Speaker via email two years ago about two individuals acting as agents of the Russian Federation.
Madam Chair, I want to say something about the unauthorized releases of intelligence.
These releases are injurious to national security and diminish the confidence that Five Eyes allies have in the security of Canada's intelligence. These releases would not be happening in a system that is functioning properly, and that is the responsibility of the head of government, who alone is responsible for the machinery of government.
These releases are a result of a government that does not release information in a controlled and timely manner to Parliament or its committees. These releases are a symptom of a national security and intelligence system that is not working, a system that is not conveying information to Parliament, to its committees, to its members, to political parties or to other individuals and institutions in a controlled and timely manner.
In this day and age, information is ubiquitous and voluminous. Information is going to get out. The question is whether information is released in a timely and controlled manner by the government or whether it is released as it has been over the last several months. It is the job of the government to provide Parliament with information about national security and intelligence issues in a controlled and timely manner, whether on the issue in front of this committee tonight or on issues like the national security breaches at the government's Winnipeg lab.
The matter in front of the committee would likely not have happened if the government had followed the example of peer jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom and the United States, which have a long history of briefing legislators on highly sensitive national security and intelligence issues. This is common practice in both countries and has been for decades. History shows that legislators are responsible and effective in how such information is shared and used. Canada needs to catch up and emulate the best practices of peer jurisdictions to ensure critical national security and intelligence issues do not become bottlenecked within the bureaucracy and executive. This can be done effectively and efficiently. Based on the U.K. and U.S. models, there need not be a trade-off between national security and empowering legislators in this way.
The Prime Minister's NSICOP is not a long-term solution. It has no standing in Parliament. It is effectively a government committee, appointed by the Prime Minister, on which MPs happen to sit.
The change that is needed is institutional. I recommend that NSICOP be brought within Parliament. Canada needs an independent parliamentary national security and intelligence committee based on the model of the U.K. and the U.S.
I also recommend that the government expeditiously introduce legislation for a foreign agents registry and commit to a public inquiry focused on PRC foreign interference threat activities.
In closing, Madam Chair, western democracies will continue to come under increased threat from foreign interference by authoritarian states. Foreign governments like the PRC and the Russian Federation will not stop trying to coercively influence our institutions in order to bend our actions to their interests. To think otherwise is naive. An urgent, whole-of-government approach is needed for this serious long-term threat.
A national security review is long overdue, and I recommend that the government undertake one as soon as possible. The review must go beyond the Prime Minister and our intelligence agencies. It must involve, as an equal partner, Parliament—the institution that is the beating heart of our democracy.
The government needs to act. To not act is to make our democracy needlessly more vulnerable to the threat of foreign interference. I am confident MPs can rise to the challenge. Let's learn from our democratic allies. Let's act now to deter future foreign interference in our democracy.
Thank you, Madam Chair.