Exclusive: Beijing allegedly tried to run candidate against popular Canadian mayor
Brad West says he is stepping forward with allegations after CSIS and community sources alerted him on Chinese Communist Party threats
Mayor Brad West, arguably Beijing’s sharpest critic in Canadian politics, says he was provided evidence the Chinese Communist Party plotted to run a candidate against him in British Columbia’s 2022 municipal elections, and CSIS warned him that diplomats in China’s Vancouver Consulate were concerned West’s political trajectory could “represent a real threat to their aims and objectives.”
In an exclusive interview, the two-term Port Coquitlam mayor disclosed toThe Bureau that CSIS is aware of posts on WeChat suggesting Beijing tried to unseat him in last year’s election.
While West doesn’t know how CSIS has assessed the case, he thinks Canadians need to know the details, in part to hold Ottawa’s feet to the fire as attention wanders from Beijing’s federal election interference, and the Trudeau Government remains inactive on Chinese threats.
West said weeks after he was acclaimed mayor in October 2022, several Chinese community sources delivered records showing that pro-Beijing figures tied to Chinese diplomats in Vancouver used WeChat in August and September 2022 — albeit unsuccessfully — trying to recruit a candidate “the Chinese community could get behind” to defeat West.
An analysis of West’s claims finds much of his information fits into an emerging picture pieced together in The Bureau’s ongoing inquiry into Chinese interference networks.
The Bureau’s examination — gleaned from CSIS documents, source interviews and Chinese-language records — points to the co-conspirators, organization, technology and disinformation employed by Beijing’s sprawling intelligence networks to undermine elections across Canada, predominantly by clandestinely supporting candidates favoured by the Communist regime while attacking its political critics.
Specifically, The Bureau has learned CSIS intelligence alleges China’s top diplomats in Vancouver and Toronto have funded and directed Chinese community associations that are co-opted by Beijing’s United Front interference arm, to transfer financial, media and volunteer support to favoured candidates, because China wants to promote so-called “friends” up through the ranks of Canadian politics, in order to fulfill its objectives.
Beijing has repeatedly denied the allegations while RCMP national security units continue to investigate suspected actors in Chinese interference conspiracies.
One example of CSIS intelligence reviewed by The Bureau that generally supports West’s information about the networks targeting him, says “the PRC Consul General in Vancouver … boasted that she controlled over 100 community groups.”
CSIS acknowledged but did not answer questions by deadline for this story.
[Editor’s note: In a response received after this story was published, CSIS did not confirm or deny West’s allegations.]
In an interview that lasted over 60 minutes, West explained that during ten years as a Port Coquitlam councillor he developed relations with diaspora community sources and steadily gathered “small snippets” of information revealing Beijing’s interference in municipal politics.
“But it wasn't until I became mayor in 2018,” West said, “that I really got a full view of the extent of foreign interference in local government and all levels of government.”
West says he decided to use his office to speak against Beijing’s hostile activities, including its genocide against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, crack-down on democracy in Hong Kong, “brazen” interference in Canadian politics and involvement in North America’s fentanyl overdose crisis, partly because most Canadian politicians avoid the issues, while many diaspora citizens are silenced in the face of threats from the Chinese Communist Party.
Gradually West learned the local pro-Beijing community was becoming concerned, he says. And his activism caught the full attention of China’s foreign interference arm in September 2019.
West had gathered with community members and a media throng outside a Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) conference in Vancouver, where Chinese officials had sponsored a private meeting with Canadian officials.
“I spoke about the oppression of people in China by the Chinese Communist Party, and I spoke about the need for our elected officials in this country to serve the citizens of this country and nobody else,” West recalled, “and that the growing threat of foreign interference particularly by the Chinese Communist Party would shake the foundations of our democracy and this was something that had to be addressed.”
Previously West had advocated for cancellation of the annual UBCM and Chinese Consular meeting, “where they get together behind closed doors for free drinks, free food and an opportunity for the Chinese Communist Party's officials to build these relationships with local politicians,” he said.
But on this occasion, nine months into Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor’s detentions in China, he decided to up the ante and confront meeting attendees, symbolically delivering two boxes of Tim Hortons donuts, with The Michaels pictures affixed.
According to West as he approached the private meeting room he came face-to-face with a senior Chinese Consular diplomat. And the events that followed apparently led to Beijing’s efforts to replace him with a favoured candidate in October 2022.
The Bureau’s in-depth interview, edited for length, probes West’s version of the events and more broadly, what he understands about sophisticated intelligence operations targeting Canada’s “soft underbelly of local government and municipal politics, where the Chinese Communist Party tries to insert themself.”
So what happened with your protest at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference?
Because I was a mayor I was able to get into that reception. It took them about five seconds to realize who I was, and what I was doing there.
They quickly ushered [the senior Chinese diplomat] away into the room where a whole bunch of other politicians, both municipal, provincial and federal, were gathered with the officials from the Chinese government.
And with nowhere else to put the two boxes of donuts, I laid them on the ground in the doorway of the reception room. Later on, I reflected on the symbolism of our politicians having to step over pictures of The Michaels to get into a room with the Chinese Communist Party.
This whole incident very much put me on the radar for the Chinese Communist Party.
And I learned in the months and years that followed that incident, with the amount of media attention it generated, as it became national news and because it shamed UBCM into ending this decades-long practice of accepting financial contributions from the Chinese government and allowing them to host a reception, the Chinese Communist Party officials were infuriated.
They felt that they had been embarrassed.
And apparently, there was a number of meetings amongst local officials and people who are involved in the United Front, in Metro Vancouver.
And it was the subject of a lot of consternation and discussion. And obviously, I became very much on the radar after that event.
And so I was advised by CSIS during one of my meetings with them, that [China’s government] would be very concerned that I might one day move beyond being mayor of Port Coquitlam into a higher office. And that could represent a real threat to their aims and objectives.
And so, over the last couple years, I've had people in the Chinese community who I've built relationships and friendships with.
And they will pass along screenshots to me of WeChat messages and posts from people, who they say are associated with the United Front, which would try to portray me as anti-Chinese and racist. And as someone who is promoting the agenda of the United States of America.
They've told me that this is often something that is used in Canada.
[The Chinese Communist Party] try and create this juxtaposition of individuals who they see as being hostile to the government of China, are somehow devotees of Donald Trump or the United States of America.
And of course, in my case, nothing could be further from the truth.
My motivation is entirely based on what I believe is best for the community.
So we had a municipal election in 2022, just last October.
I was acclaimed as Mayor of Port Coquitlam for a second term. About a month after the elections had passed some of my contacts within the Chinese community, who have previously shared with me some of the articles and messages and posts that tried to depict me as anti-China, shared with me messages from the same individuals, who they tell me are associated with the United Front.
And those messages were seeking someone to run against me for mayor.
They were from August and September 2022. And they made comments along the lines of me being again, a lapdog to Donald Trump and the United States, and being anti-China.
And it included a number of links from media stories, including a number of your stories Sam, where I was quoted saying various things about the importance of Canada standing up, my repeated advocacy for a foreign agent's registry.
And one of the messages was seeking a candidate to run against me that quote: ‘the Chinese community could get behind and support.’
So I think when you put together all the puzzle pieces, and you look at the continual interest that [Chinese diplomats in Vancouver] have taken in me, and my being told by CSIS that I was on their radar, and the messages that were disseminated over the number of years, and finally the attempt to recruit someone who they could quote, ‘get behind to run against me’ as mayor.
You know, that looks to me, like another example of foreign interference that we're seeing. One of numerous examples that have come to light.
And most of those examples obviously have been at a federal and provincial level.
But I have always known and have spoken out and have warned people about the soft underbelly of local government and municipal politics, where the Chinese Communist Party tries to insert themself.
They're trying to build relationships with municipal politicians, in the hopes that those individuals go on to become Members of Legislative Assemblies, or Members of Parliament, or cabinet ministers or premiers or prime ministers.
And then, they will have a relationship.
And again, their operation is very sophisticated.
I mean, that's why they sponsored the UBCM. That's why they had that reception. That's why they would take municipal politicians, including mayors and councillors from very small towns in British Columbia, and take them on trips to China.
They did all of those things, not out of the goodness of their heart. But because they have an agenda, and that was them working to implement it.
And so in the context of that, when I found out [that Beijing’s agents allegedly tried to defeat West in 2022] I wasn't horribly surprised. I almost half expected it.
Because I knew how active they are and their attempts to target other politicians.
But I do think the public needs to have awareness. Because we have a long way to go in our country before we have adequately dealt with this issue and have the very common sense safeguards in place that exist in a number of other countries.
And I think those things are essential if we're going to ensure that our democracy, our government and our institutions are serving Canadians and nobody else.
I would agree with the whole timeline and set of facts and allegations you've laid out, because they are entirely consistent with the intelligence that I've reviewed and reported on.
So that is, from since about 2015, the Chinese Consulates, especially in Vancouver and Toronto, have ramped up extremely aggressive interference, against all institutions in Canada, including media.
But to get into my questions for you, the other elements that are common are WeChat, and it sounds like community leaders in Vancouver, that others in the community strongly suspect or know are part of the United Front, and who are very conversant with the Vancouver Consulate officials.
But I'll start by asking, you mentioned yourself being briefed by CSIS. Am I correct?
And you were told that they had intelligence, that Chinese officials were concerned with your political activity and didn't want you to rise further, or were afraid of you rising further in British Columbia, or other levels of politics?
That's correct. It would've been after the UBCM conference in September 2019. It was in January 2020, when they asked to have a meeting with me.
Among the number of things that were shared with me, the one that was most significant was that the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Consulate was greatly distressed by my protest at the UBCM convention. And that it had very much put me on the radar and that the ensuing media and public attention that event created on me, and the platform it provided me to be able to speak out on these issues, gave a great concern that I might advance to a higher level of office.
Right. And so what you've described, is prior to the municipal elections in the fall of 2022, from community sources that you trust, but you are choosing not to name, you are saying you were presented compelling evidence that there was an active operation against your election, or at least an attempt?
And the people who've come forward and shared this with me are people who are not prone to making things up, who have evidence and copies of messages, and who know their own community.
But who also are at great risk both themselves and their families. If they were to identify themselves, they're already taking a great risk by sharing what they know.