India, Pakistan attempted to interfere in Canada's elections: CSIS

The governments of Pakistan and India attempted to interfere in Canada's elections in 2019 and 2021, Canada's spy agency said in documents made public late Thursday night.

Spy agency documents tabled at foreign interference inquiry show 2019, 2021 elections were targeted

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and Indian PM Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, walks past Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 Summit in New Delhi in September, 2023. Documents tabled at the federal commission of inquiry into foreign interference Thursday showed Canada's spy agency believed India attempted to interfere in the 2021 federal election. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The governments of India and Pakistan attempted to interfere in Canada's federal elections in 2019 and 2021, Canada's spy agency said in documents made public late Thursday night.

In 2021, the government of India had "intent to interfere and likely conducted clandestine activities," including the use of an Indian government proxy agent in Canada, according to an unclassified summary written by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

Two years earlier, in 2019, "Government of Pakistan officials in Canada attempted to clandestinely influence Canadian federal politics with the aim of furthering the Government of Pakistan's interests in Canada," CSIS wrote.

The stark assessments are contained in documents that were tabled as part of the federal commission of inquiry into foreign interference. The public inquiry is examining possible meddling by China, India, Russia and others in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

The reports all bear notes of caution about the summaries being possibly uncorroborated, single-sourced or incomplete. CSIS Director David Vigneault told the public inquiry that intelligence is not necessarily fact and it may require further investigation.

CBC News reached out to the Indian and Pakistani high commissions Friday morning but has not received a response.

Asked whether India and Pakistan should be considered threats to Canada's electoral system, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government has taken "significant measures to counter foreign interference."

"We have known for many, many years that many different countries take an interest in engaging in Canadian institutions, and sometimes influencing, sometimes interfering in the work of Canadian institutions," he told a news conference in Calgary on Friday.

"I can assure people that we will continue to do everything necessary to prevent interference from whatever country it comes from."

Pakistan a 'limited foreign interference actor'

The government of Pakistan's foreign interference in Canada was "primarily to promote political, security and economic stability in Pakistan and to counter India's growing global influence," says one CSIS assessment, adding that Pakistan was a "limited foreign interference actor" in 2019 and 2021.

In the case of the 2019 election, CSIS said the Canadian government conducted what it called a "threat reduction measure" ahead of the vote meant to "reduce the foreign interference threat posed by the Government of Pakistan."

"The situation was monitored and assessed to have effectively reduced the threat of interference," CSIS wrote. 

A man in a suit sits at a desk behind a microphone.
David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency, appears at the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions hearings, in Ottawa on Feb. 1. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

CSIS says its intelligence shows India's government also meddled in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. 

India supported pro-Indian candidates

CSIS alleges that in 2021, the Indian government's foreign interference activities "were centred on a small number of electoral districts." The government of India targeted those ridings, CSIS wrote, because there was a perception by India that "a portion of Indo-Canadian voters were sympathetic to the Khalistani movement or pro-Pakistan political stances."

The Khalistan movement is a separatist movement bent on carving out an independent Sikh nation in the northern Indian state of Punjab. The Indian government has long maintained that the Punjabi independence movement undermines India's national security.

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The CSIS summary goes on to say that it has amassed "a body of intelligence" that indicates a government of India "proxy agent may have attempted to interfere in democratic processes" by providing illegal financial support to pro-Indian candidates.

"Any such financial contribution could have remained unknown to the candidate," CSIS said.

The CSIS memo does not identify the specific ridings or candidates that may have been subject to India's meddling in 2021.

CSIS describes the proxy agent as "a specific individual who takes explicit and/or implicit direction from a foreign state while obfuscating the link between influence activities and a foreign state." 

Proxy agents are based in Canada, don't necessarily belong to a specific diaspora community and "are witting participants in furthering the objective of the foreign state in specific circumstances," CSIS says.

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The documents are unclassified summaries of intelligence primarily authored by CSIS, with "input and agreement" from the Communications Security Establishment — Canada's other spy agency, which focuses on electronic surveillance — Global Affairs Canada, the Privy Council Office, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Public Safety Canada.

Pakistan and India have not been the focus of testimony during this phase of the foreign interference public inquiry, which began last week. The proceedings have largely been geared toward alleged foreign interference by China. But the two South Asian countries have come up in other documents tabled at the inquiry. 

A summary of an October 2022 meeting between CSIS and the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections — the agency that enforces Canada's federal election laws — said "the two main state actors involved in the last election were China and India."

And a public summary of a classified CSIS briefing provided to political parties dated June 2019 lists India and Pakistan among other state actors that could engage in meddling in Canada.

Redacting a word that appears right before the word "Pakistani" in a sentence, the briefing goes on to say "Pakistani officials in Canada have likely tried to clandestinely influence and support Canadian politicians of Pakistani descent, with the aim of furthering Pakistani interests in Canada."

Three of the five paragraphs about India in that briefing note are largely redacted, but it says "Indian officials have utilized a network of contacts, which includes politicians, academics, businesspersons, media personalities and community leaders, to monitor Canadian-based individuals that are of interest to the Government of India."

CSIS also wrote it has observed that there have been "Indian interference activities targeted at Canadian Members of Parliament, Provincial Legislative Members ... outside the scope of regular diplomatic norms."

In July 2021, the Security Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) Task Force — a Canadian government body composed of senior civil servants from the RCMP, CSIS, Global Affairs and the CSE — held a briefing to alert political parties to lessons learned from the 2019 election.

SITE wrote that in 2019, it observed "foreign interference activities targeting certain ridings and candidates in relation to the election, directed largely from China, and to a lesser extent from India and Pakistan, through the use of human agents."

The document went on to say that "none of the activities met the threshold to pursue criminal investigations."

The document had a section about Pakistan, which was completely redacted. 

On India, SITE said in that briefing the country is "actively conducting foreign interference and targets Canadian political figures. Working through Indian officials in Canada, India engages in a range of activities that seek to influence Canadian communities and politicians in order to advance its political interests.

"India is interested in engaging its diaspora in Canada to shape political outcomes in its favour."

With files from Janyce McGregor