Politics

CSIS warns that Chinese-backed interference isn’t going anywhere in latest report

As the dust settles on the landmark findings of the foreign interference inquiry, Canada’s intelligence agency is warning that China likely will back more meddling campaigns and expand its online pressure tactics over the coming year. 

In its latest annual report, released Tuesday, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says the People’s Republic of China (PRC) remains “an enduring threat” to Canadian technology, democracy and diaspora communities.

“The PRC’s negative perceptions of select Canadian domestic and foreign policy initiatives may also drive more foreign interference, disinformation efforts and cyber activity in 2024,” said the report.

The unclassified report also warns of a shift in how China runs cyber campaigns.

Last year, the Five Eyes intelligence sharing network disclosed details of Volt Typhoon, a Chinese government-linked hacking campaign, after analysts at Microsoft found it had targeted everything from U.S. telecommunication networks to transportation hubs.

“This is the first public indication of the PRC targeting infrastructure of this scale,” CSIS wrote in its report.

“Disruption in these sectors would impede military operations and have major impacts on civilian populations as well.”

Last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray said China is developing the “ability to physically wreak havoc” on U.S. critical infrastructure and its hackers are waiting “for just the right moment to deal a devastating blow.”

CSIS’s annual report comes a few days after the public inquiry investigating foreign election interference said attempts by other countries to meddle in the past two federal elections ultimately did not affect which political party formed government.

A pride flag is waved on Aug. 27, 2023. Documents released earlier this year show the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC) felt extremists could “inspire and encourage” serious violence against the 2SLGBTQI+ community.  (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The inquiry’s initial report, released Friday, said it’s possible the results in a small number of ridings were affected by Chinese foreign interference “but this cannot be said with certainty.”

“Nonetheless, the acts of interference that occurred are a stain on our electoral process and impacted the process leading up to the actual vote,” wrote Justice Marie-Josée Hogue, who is leading thew inquiry.

Violent rhetoric persists 

Casting ahead to the rest of 2024, the CSIS report suggests violent rhetoric and criminal activity targeting the “2SLGBTQIA+ community, Jewish and Muslim communities, public officials, and democratic institutions in Canada will continue.”

Documents released earlier this year show the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC) felt extremists could “inspire and encourage” serious violence against the 2SLGBTQI+ community. 

“CSIS assesses that the violent threat posed by the anti-gender movement is almost certain to continue over the coming year and that violent actors may be inspired by the University of Waterloo attack to carry out their own extreme violence against the 2SLGBTQI+ community or against other targets they view as representing the gender ideology ‘agenda,'” said CSIS spokesperson Eric Balsam in an email to CBC News earlier this year.

Geovanny Villalba-Aleman, 24, is charged with stabbing two students and a professor in a gender studies class at the University of Waterloo last June. Waterloo Regional Police called the attack “a hate-motivated incident related to gender expression and gender identity.”

Those comments come as provincial policies on gender-affirming surgeries and pronoun preferences are being hotly debated across the country.

ITAC is also closing watching a spike in “violent rhetoric” since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war.

“ITAC assesses that the volume of online threats and violent propaganda propagated in 2024 will be exacerbated by conflict in the Middle East,” said Tuesday’s report.

The National Terrorism Threat Level remains at medium, where it’s been since 2014.

On Monday, the federal government unveiled a long-anticipated bill aimed at curbing foreign interference in Canadian political life. If passed, the bill would introduce new foreign interference offence, shake up how Canada’s spy agency collects and shares intelligence and launch a long-anticipated foreign influence transparency registry.

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