August 9, 2023 – Ottawa, Ontario – Global Affairs Canada
Global Affairs Canada today issued the following statement:
“The Government of Canada maintains the strength and resilience of Canada’s democratic institutions through vigilance, including by monitoring the digital information environment for threats, such as foreign interference.
“In June 2023, while monitoring the digital information ecosystem for the June 19, 2023 by-elections, Global Affairs Canada’s [GAC’s] Rapid Response Mechanism [RRM] Canada detected an information operation targeting Michael Chong, Member of Parliament for Wellington-Halton Hills, which took place on the social media platform WeChat in May 2023.
“An analysis by the RRM to determine the possibility of state involvement revealed that, while China’s role in the information operation is highly probable, unequivocal proof that China ordered and directed the operation is not possible to determine due to the covert nature of how social media networks are leveraged in this type of information campaign. GAC worked with other departments through late June and July to review and assess the information. Mr. Chong was also offered a briefing on this operation. Government of Canada officials conducted Mr. Chong’s briefing on August 9, 2023.
“Democracies rely on access to diverse and reliable sources of news and information. Disinformation undermines free speech, hinders open public debate and erodes trust in democracy. Located at GAC, and established at the 2018 G7 Summit in Charlevoix, RRM Canada leads the G7 RRM and supports Canada’s efforts to counter foreign state-sponsored disinformation. To provide transparency and accountability to Canadians, RRM Canada is an important mechanism that monitors the digital information environment for foreign state-sponsored disinformation and provides open source data analytics about threats to democracy.
“Between May 4 and 13, 2023, a coordinated network of WeChat’s news accounts featured, shared and amplified a large volume of false or misleading narratives about Mr. Chong. Most of the activity was targeted at spreading false narratives about his identity, including commentary and claims about his background, political stances and family’s heritage. It is the assessment of GAC that nothing observed represents a threat to the safety of Mr. Chong or his family.
“The network displayed several indicators of foreign information manipulation and interference, including:
- coordinated content and timing
- highly suspicious and abnormal shifts in the volume and scope of engagement
- the concealment of state involvement
“One third of the network included known state-media outlets and accounts that are likely linked to China’s state apparatus but whose linkages may be opaque. Two thirds of those accounts were anonymous and had not previously published any news stories on Canadian politics. Moreover, these accounts published or interacted with content at similar times and dates, increasing the likelihood WeChat users would see the false narratives by creating an increased volume of content on this topic.
“The false narratives about Mr. Chong violated WeChat’s user code of conduct; however, RRM Canada found no indication that the platform applied its own content moderation standards.
“Foreign interference is a serious threat to democracy. Canada will never accept any form of interference in our democracy or internal affairs. GAC will raise with China’s representatives in Canada our serious concerns over the activity observed on WeChat. We will also convey that it is completely unacceptable to directly or indirectly support information operations that target parliamentarians, their families or any Canadians.
“In addition to making this public disclosure of the findings of RRM Canada, the Government of Canada will continue to monitor the digital information environment for foreign information manipulation and respond when necessary and appropriate to shine a light on the harmful effects of disinformation.
“In May 2023, the Government of Canada took decisive action to combat foreign interference and uphold confidence in our democratic institutions, including through the declaration of Zhao Wei as persona non grata. The Government of Canada will continue to be observant of any and all recommendations made by the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in the course of their ongoing reviews of foreign interference in the 43rd and 44th Canadian federal general elections.
“The Government of Canada takes any attempts at undermining our institutions very seriously and will continue to take action to protect our democracy—one of the strongest and most stable in the world—and uphold Canadians’ confidence in it.”