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Canada's National Security Advisor Still Suspects Canadian Politicians Are Under Foreign Influence

Richard Fadden, a senior advisor to the prime minister, hopes Canada's controversial anti-terrorism legislation will help quash foreign espionage.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
Photo by Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Canada has a spy problem, according to the country's top national security advisor. And it's not going away.

Richard Fadden, a senior advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, suspects foreign governments are buying influence with the country's politicians for nefarious purposes. And he's hoping to fix the problem.

The question about espionage in Canada's halls of power came up while Fadden was testifying before a parliamentary committee on Monday. Senator Lynn Beyak wondered whether there's reason to be concerned over "foreign governments and other interests targeting prominent Canadian politicians," asking Fadden: "is it worse today because of the radicalization and the terror threat?"


It turns out, Fadden is concerned.

"It's very hard to answer if it's worse," Fadden said. "I would argue that, broadly speaking, those concerns remain.

"I would be less than candid if I didn't say terrorism is taking up far more of our time than it ever has, and I think in the absence of fairly obvious cases, it would be difficult to comment on whether it's materially worse or better, or the same," he said.

Beyak's question was based on comments that Fadden made in 2010, when he was the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which acts as the country's domestic and international spy agency.

"We have an indication that there's some political figures who have developed quite an attachment to foreign countries," Fadden said in a 2010 interview with the CBC.

"There are several municipal politicians in British Columbia and in at least two provinces there are ministers of the Crown who we think are under at least the general influence of a foreign government," he said in the interview. He went on to say that "one, possibly a couple" foreign governments were grooming students to become political leaders in Canada and, "before you know it, the country is providing them with money, there's some sort of covert guidance."

Fadden strongly suggested during his CBC interview that the main culprit was China.

On Monday, Fadden said it isn't just that he's watching too many episodes of The Americans — he said the reality of foreign governments grooming intelligence-gatherers in the Canadian government is a "fact" and an ongoing problem.


"It went on then," Fadden said on Monday, referring to when he first made the comments five years ago. "It went on in other countries and I suspect it's going on now."

He's hoping that the controversial new anti-terrorism legislation introduced by the Canadian government, and the broad new information-sharing powers it affords to Canada's spy and counter-espionage agencies, will go some lengths to quash foreign espionage.

"Sharing information held by various departments would enable us to get at more problems than exist today, and I suspect it will help in that case as well," Fadden said.

When Fadden first made the comments in 2010, where he specifically said that politicians who are members of diaspora communities were the most likely to be flipped as double agents, he was mocked for dropping such a serious accusation without providing names of possible spies, or the offending governments — he refused to do so on the basis of national security. Several opposition politicians accused Fadden of attacking the credibility of foreign-born politicians.

While Fadden said in 2010 that CSIS hadn't identified any specific Members of Parliament (MPs) working for foreign governments, a story that came out a year later may have piqued their interest into the Canadian federal government.

In 2011, Bob Dechert, an MP for a suburb of Toronto, got caught up in what appeared to be a honeypot scheme.

Thanks to a jilted husband, it was revealed that Dechert, who worked on sensitive foreign affairs files for the government, was involved with a journalist for Chinese state TV.


Leaked emails, published by the journalist's spurned lover, show that Dechert had a "flirtatious" relationship with the Xinhua broadcaster.

Xinhua is widely regarded as a mouthpiece for Beijing, and a cover for its intelligence agents. One former Ottawa correspondent for the agency said his editors asked him to spy on Chinese dissidents within Canada.

The "sexpionage" scandal underscored China's interest in obtaining critical Canadian information, especially on industry and trade portfolios. In 2014, a "state-sponsored" Chinese attack targeted a Canadian government research body.

Of Canada's 308 federal MPs, 41 were born outside the country. A handful of the federal representatives hold dual citizenship, including the leader of the opposition Thomas Mulcair, who holds a French passport.

While he wouldn't comment specifically on Fadden's allegations, as he hadn't yet heard them, Canada's Minister of National Defense Jason Kenney did suggest that the risk of foreign meddling is a good reason to avoid democratic intelligence oversight.

"Political actors have different pressures and agendas," Kenney said when asked whether the risk of elected moles may be a reason not to establish such an oversight body.

It was during hearings on the role of human and signals intelligence, and how much powers domestic spy agencies should have in order to stop terror threats, that Fadden made his comments.

During the debate over the new anti-terror bill, Canada's Conservative government has vigorously fought establishing an oversight body made up of elected politicians, akin to what exists in both houses of Congress and the English Parliament.

Canada is the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence community — comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States — without democratic oversight of its spying.

Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party who sits neck-and-neck in the polls with the governing party, told VICE News that he is "always aware of people concerned about Canadian sovereignty and Canadian independence and decision-making, and it's something we, as politicians, need to be mindful of."

However, he said allegations like Fadden's, made without clear evidence, are "just fear-mongering."