Canadian Senator promised to support members in CCP's United Front: Audio Tapes
The Bureau's exclusive investigation finds intelligence sources and documents implicate two Canadian cabinet ministers in Chinese election interference networks
In a private briefing in May 2020, Senator Yuen Pau Woo promised to shield members of Beijing’s “United Front” from critical scrutiny in Canada for taking pro-China stances on controversial issues such as the treatment of Uyghurs.
Woo’s pledges of support for United Front organizations are captured in recordings of his meeting with Canada Committee 100 Society, a Vancouver group with ties to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
The CPPCC is the Chinese Communist Party’s basic structure for united front influence operations according to a declassified Central Intelligence Agency document and recent U.S. government testimony on China’s political interference networks.
Woo’s private statements call into question his public intervener role in Ottawa’s upcoming Foreign Interference Commission, according to experts that analyzed his comments. Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue has granted Woo’s late application to make legal arguments in the hearing.
But analysts experienced in Chinese interference say the Senator — who was appointed by Justin Trudeau in 2016 — is legitimizing the United Front’s expanding networks of influence, which facilitated Beijing’s federal election interference in 2019, according to leaked CSIS records that triggered the Commission.
The stakes surrounding the Commission’s outcome and Woo’s intervener status are of serious consequence due to the nature of CSIS’s investigations, which accuse United Front community leaders in Canada of being Chinese Communist Party proxies that recruit and channel support to Beijing’s preferred candidates.
For example, according to three national security sources, an elite politician hand-picked by Justin Trudeau, Liberal cabinet minister Mary Ng, was identified in CSIS investigations as one of 11 Toronto-area candidates clandestinely supported by Chinese Consulate and United Front influence networks in the 2019 election.
These national security whistleblowers asked not to be identified because of ongoing investigations.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office and International Trade Minister Mary Ng have not responded to The Bureau’s questions for this story.
While CSIS’s election investigations haven’t been tested in court, recent legal decisions have affirmed the United Front is active in recruitment and grooming of Beijing’s preferred candidates in Canada.
According to a July 2023 Canadian immigration ruling, over the past 10 years President Xi Jinping has massively increased manpower for Beijing’s United Front Work Department and tasked its networks to influence “overseas Chinese communities, foreign governments, and other actors to take actions or adopt positions supportive of Beijing’s preferred policies.”
The Bureau obtained recordings of Senator Woo’s May 2020 meeting from a Chinese Canadian that believes the private briefing raises national security concerns.
Charles Burton, a fluent Mandarin speaker and former Canadian diplomat, analyzed Woo’s recorded statements and called them shocking.
“Senator Woo's briefing to Canada Committee 100 Society effectively enables the legitimacy of agencies of the Chinese Communist Party in our country,” Burton said. “This does call into question Senator Woo's intervener status in the Inquiry.”
The Bureau also provided the tape-recorded evidence to CSIS and asked the Service to comment on whether the statements are relevant to Woo’s intervener status in the Interference Commission.
“Individuals purposefully aligning themselves with United Front Work Department (UFWD) designated organizations should understand its ongoing actions targeting members of Canadian communities with harassment, manipulation or intimidation,” spokesman Eric Balsam wrote, in a statement that didn’t name Senator Woo. “The PRC uses its UFWD in Canada and around the world to stifle criticism and manipulate Canadian communities. These activities constitute a threat to Canada’s sovereignty and to the safety of Canadians.”
“I am fighting very hard”
Senator Woo didn’t respond to detailed questions on his recorded statements, but said: “I suggest you submit to the inquiry any new information you have so that Judge Hogue can give it a critical assessment.”
The Bureau forwarded audio and visual evidence of Woo’s meeting to the Commission and asked whether the Senator’s promise to support Canadian members of Beijing’s United Front should impact his power to make legal arguments in the Commission.
“Thank you for the information you have provided to the Commission,” spokesman Michael Tansey said. “Much like judges do not comment on particular cases before them, the Commission will not comment further on its decisions.”
The Bureau’s review of the 47-minute recording of Woo’s briefing for the Canada Committee 100 Society shows members believe some Chinese community leaders faced unfounded allegations surrounding their shipping medical masks to and from China during the Covid-19 pandemic, and they asked Woo how they could withstand being subjected to a sort of loyalty test by Canadian officials.
”I’m very worried that the mainstream in Canada, including a lot of my friends, political leaders, and business leaders and media leaders, are falling into a very dangerous trend, what I call a litmus test,” Woo told the group.
“For example, your views in Hong Kong, your views on Tibet, your views on Uyghurs, your views on South China Sea, whether you belong to an organization that is officially part of the United Front. You know, many organizations are listed as part of a United Front list of organizations. And the fact that you are simply associated with one, is often used as a litmus test.”
While Woo doesn’t expand on what he means by views on Tibet, Hong Kong, Uyghurs or the South China Sea, these are all predominant focuses of Beijing’s united front influence, according to a November 2023 U.S. Congressional memo called “United Front 101.”
“United front work is a unique blend of engagement, influence activities, and intelligence operations that the Chinese Communist Party uses to shape its political environment, including to influence other countries’ policy toward the PRC,” that memo says.
On a second occasion in the May 2020 meeting, Woo says “whether you belong to an organization, that happens to be listed as a United Front organization, should not be a litmus test.”
“I am fighting very hard,” against this type of criticism, Woo says.
Asked by a group member to clarify further, Woo asserts no one should “assume, that the organization is an agent of the Chinese state, or is by definition disloyal, to Canada, just because it happens to be recognized by the Chinese government, or listed as a Tongyi Zhanxian 统一战线 [United Front] organization.”
Parsing this particular answer, Charles Burton said “the Senator evidently feigns that he is unclear on the intent of United Front astroturfed organizations.”
“A very troubling purpose of these institutions is to evoke divided loyalties in Chinese Canadians by manipulation and deception,” Burton said.
He added that intelligence shows the leadership of United Front “compatriot” groups in Canada is vetted by United Front Work Department officials in Beijing, and Canadian United Front groups are involved in “the police stations and proxy organizations that enable interference in our elections, and other democratic processes.”
Cabinet Ministers allegedly implicated
According to Commissioner Hogue’s decision, Senator Woo argues he is involved in debates over whether Canada should implement a foreign registry, Woo can provide analysis on whether election interference occurred, and is working with Chinese community groups who are “concerned about the stigmatizing consequences of unfounded allegations of foreign interference.”
“I agree that Senator Woo has some direct and substantial interest in the subject matter of the Inquiry and that he will likely make necessary contributions to the Commission’s work,” Hogue decided.
The Bureau has reviewed a number of relevant Canadian intelligence documents that Hogue could access, including a January 2022 Privy Council Office “Special Report” that boils down and effectively validates core allegations gleaned from numerous CSIS investigations into China’s United Front election interference cells in Toronto.
The Special Report — a sort of national security recommendation document for Trudeau and his cabinet — concludes Beijing’s pervasive interference in Canadian politics escalated from 2015 when President Xi promoted the united front in Chinese Communist Party operations abroad.
The document asserts that a “clandestine network of PRC linked individuals” worked in loose coordination to “covertly advance PRC interests related to the 2019 Federal Election in Canada.”
The report’s most consequential allegation states “a large clandestine transfer of funds earmarked for the Federal Election from the PRC Consulate in Toronto was transferred” into the 2019 election influence network, which included at least 11 federal candidates and 13 campaign staff.
An earlier Privy Council intelligence brief reviewed by The Bureau — which Commissioner Hogue also has access to — connects the United Front to this clandestine Chinese funding in the Greater Toronto Area.
“Investigations into activities linked to the Canadian federal election in 2019, reveal an active foreign interference (FI) network in GTA,” the Feb. 21, 2020 Privy Council brief says. “This network involves the Chinese consulate, local community leaders, Canadian politicians, and their staff.”
This intelligence brief continues to explain that China gleaned important political information from its 2019 election interference.
“Co-opted staff of targeted politicians provide advice on China-related issues and community leaders facilitate the clandestine transfer of funds and recruit potential targets,” it says. “The FI networks in the GTA implicate at least 11 candidates in the 2019 election; some are likely unaware of these influence efforts while others have willingly cooperated with threat activity.”
Explaining the role of Beijing’s United Front Work Department in the Toronto Consulate influence networks, the February 2020 Privy Council document says: “Besides funding, the UFWD is also likely to offer candidates logistical support, favourable media coverage, and endorsements.”
The Bureau confirmed from three sources that Mary Ng is assessed by CSIS to be unwittingly implicated in the 2019 election interference network that allegedly included at least 11 of China’s preferred candidates in Toronto.
Minister Ng is a member of Trudeau’s inner circle who rose swiftly in his government, first serving as a senior aide in Trudeau’s office before stepping up to replace Liberal MP John McCallum in a 2017 by-election in Markham, a coveted riding for federal Liberals with a large demographic of voters from Hong Kong and China.
In 2018 Trudeau promoted Mary Ng to his cabinet.
Two national security sources said a specific concern for CSIS was that Mary Ng’s staff was allegedly privately meeting with a Toronto Consulate diplomat to consult on China-related issues.
That diplomat, Wei ZHAO, has been assessed by CSIS as a “confirmed intelligence actor” according to one source.
“We believe Wei ZHAO worked with political staffers to provide information on the meetings of elected officials and their whereabouts,” the source said. “We know staff have direction to report privately to the Consulate on Mary Ng.”
Under enormous pressure, Trudeau’s government expelled Wei ZHAO from Canada in May 2023, after the Globe and Mail broke news that ZHAO had targeted Conservative MP Michael Chong and his family in the lead-up to the 2021 election.
That case is referred to broadly — without identifying Wei ZHAO or the elected officials he targeted — in the January 2022 Privy Council “Special Report” examined by The Bureau.
In a sub-section titled “Threatening Canada’s elected officials to deter criticism” the Privy Council document says Chinese intelligence conducted research on some MPs who voted in 2021 to declare China’s actions in Xinjiang a genocide.
“Elected officials are harassed, intimidated, pressured or punished as a result of what the CCP deems ‘anti-China’ policy positions,” the Special Report concludes.
It adds that in CSIS briefings a small number of MPs in 2021 reported concern for their families and concerns for their re-election as a result of “targeted” CCP activity.
While allegations that China secretly supported Mary Ng without her knowledge in 2019 have not previously been reported, a report from NSICOP, a Parliamentary intelligence review body, suggests China supported a different federal cabinet minister, prior to the October 2015 federal election.
NSICOP’s unredacted June 2019 draft report for Prime Minister Trudeau, reviewed by The Bureau, cites a January 13, 2015 report from CSIS, titled “PRC Interference in Canadian Electoral Politics Likely to intensify as Federal Election approaches.”
“A federal cabinet Minster was perceived by the PRC intelligence services as a co-opted agent,” NSICOP’s June 2019 report says. “The Cabinet Minister received diplomatic support during federal election campaigns and accepted substantial donations from a businessperson closely associated with the PRC Consulate in Canada.”
The cabinet minister isn’t identified. Nor are the relevant federal election campaigns.
In a year-end interview, CBC reportedly asked CSIS director David Vigneault if he believes anyone currently serving in the House of Commons is compromised by foreign interference.
Vigneault avoided the question but confirmed that China targets "politicians at all levels of government, federal, provincial, and municipal, and also ... First Nations.”
“There are people who are being influenced unknowingly,” Vigneault reportedly said. “And then unfortunately, we also have seen indications of people who have been witting in their activities."
“Tip of the iceberg”
Cheuk Kwan, of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, has previously testified in Parliament Committee hearings, saying many Chinese Canadians including himself have faced threats from Chinese agents.
Kwan analyzed The Bureau’s tapes of Senator Woo’s private meeting with Canada Committee 100 and looked at the group’s board structure.
“CCS100 looks like it’s another one of these groups set up to legitimize China’s United Front,” Kwan wrote.