All three national security and intelligence advisers who served Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2021 told Global News that they do not recall receiving a top secret intelligence assessment prepared that year about Beijing targeting Conservative MP Michael Chong and his family.
The development raises yet more questions about how the report from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which was allegedly sent to the desk of the prime minister’s top national security official, somehow fell through the cracks.
Speaking in question period last Thursday, Chong told MPs that he had been informed by the prime minister’s current national security adviser, Jody Thomas, that CSIS sent a July 20, 2021 intelligence assessment to the national security adviser in the Privy Council Office as well as to “relevant departments.”
“This report contained information that I and other MPs were being targeted by the PRC,” Chong told the House.
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The role of the prime minister’s national security and intelligence adviser — or NSIA — is to manage the flow of information gathered from agencies, turning it into information or advice for the prime minister and the clerk of the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic agency that supports the Prime Minister’s Office.
The summer of 2021 saw several changes in the office of the NSIA, beginning with Vincent Rigby’s departure at the end of June.
Asked whether he received a copy of the intelligence report while serving as the national security adviser or in any other capacity, Rigby told Global News that he stepped down from the position on June 30, 2021.
“I would not have seen any document written or circulated after that date,” he said.
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David Morrison, who was already serving as the prime minister’s foreign and defence policy adviser, took on the role in an acting capacity from early July 2021 to early January 2022.
“Mr. Morrison does not recall having received any written material regarding threats to MPs during this time,” according to a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, where Morrison now serves as deputy minister.
“He also does not recall any oral briefings or discussions on the issue while NSIA,” the department said in its statement.
Earlier this year, Morrison testified before the procedure and House affairs committee as part of its study into foreign election interference.
Morrison was also scheduled to appear before the House foreign affairs committee last Thursday on an unrelated matter, but was instead tasked by Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly with summoning Chinese ambassador Cong Peiwu over the alleged threats targeting Chong and his family.
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That move came days after the Globe and Mail first reported that the Chinese government targeted Canadian MPs behind a February 2021 parliamentary motion that declared Beijing’s oppression of China’s Uyghur minority as constituting a genocide.
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Morrison was himself temporarily replaced while acting as the prime minister’s national security adviser.
In a statement, the Privy Council Office told Global News that Mike MacDonald acted in the role from July 16 to Aug. 3, 2021.
As such, he would have started in the role just days before the CSIS report was allegedly authored.
“While the NSIA’s office regularly receives intelligence and information from security partners, Mr. MacDonald does not recall having seen any material regarding threats to MPs during this time,” said Privy Council Office spokesperson Pierre-Alain Bujold.
“As a result, no material describing any such threats was briefed to PMO.”
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After the story first broke, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau initially said he had no prior knowledge of the report, stating that the CSIS briefing never left the spy agency.
“CSIS made the determination that it wasn’t something that needed to be raised to a higher level, because it wasn’t a significant enough concern,” Trudeau told reporters on May 3.
A day later, Chong told the House of Commons that he had been informed by Thomas that the briefing had in fact been shared beyond CSIS, suggesting that contradicted the prime minister’s initial claim.
In response, Trudeau told reporters on May 5 that he “shared the best information I had at the time.”
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