The prime minister’s top national security adviser says she expects the security official who leaked sensitive information to the media about an attempted Chinese meddling in Canadian politics — sparking months of controversy over foreign interference in Canadian elections — will be caught and punished .
“The law has been broken. Resources, techniques have been compromised. Our credibility with Five eyes allies has been compromised,” Jody Thomas told host Catherine Cullen in an exclusive interview with CBC’s The House airing Saturday.
“There are better ways to do this,” Thomas said during the interview — her first since being named national security adviser. “There are better ways to voice your concerns within a national security agency. There are better ways to shed some light on this issue than risking Canada’s national security.”
In late 2022, a series of articles began in Global News and the Globe and Mail about alleged Chinese foreign interference in Canadian elections. In some cases, the reports were based on leaked top secret information. The Globe and Mail eventually published a piece written by a national security source who provided information to the newspaper.
WATCH: Nice of foreign interference is caught, says Jody Thomas
Tasty from foreign interference will be caught and punished, says the prime minister’s top security adviser
The source wrote that they were motivated to speak out because “it was becoming increasingly clear that no serious action was being considered. Worse, evidence that senior government officials were ignoring the interference began to pile up.”
Thomas has appeared a number of times before a parliamentary committee studying foreign interference in Canadian elections. She told CBC that the source was wrong about leaking sensitive information to the public.
“It’s incredibly disturbing on a number of levels. First, that they would be so ignorant of what has been done. That, second, that they would risk our national security to leak information and gain some notoriety… ” she said.
“Three, (that they) leak pieces of information that don’t tell a full story, that might look outrageous and outrageous in a headline, but don’t tell the full story of what preceded that piece of information that was leaked and what’s after that and what the analysis is and what has been done with it.”
LOOK | Mounties investigate possible harassment of Conservative MP:
RCMP is investigating claims that China intimidated Conservative MP Michael Chong
Asked if the source was encouraging a conversation about national security that Canadians needed, Thomas said she believes “there’s no benefit to leaking. I’ll never admit there is any benefit.”
“There’s an advantage to having a conversation and there’s an advantage to making sure the security services are more open and candid with information.”
Still, Thomas said Canadians need to have a discussion about what national security really means, how concerned citizens should be about these reports and what is being done to address those concerns and ensure election security.
The Liberals have been embroiled in extensive controversy over their response to allegations of foreign interference. Canada’s security services have acknowledged that foreign actors such as China have tried to influence the Canadian election – but according to government assessments, the 2019 and 2021 Canadian elections have remained free and fair and the results have not been altered by any interference.
David Johnston resigned as independent special rapporteur on foreign interference after recommending against a public inquiry. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Opposition parties have called on the government to launch a public inquiry into the matter. Conservative leader Pierre Poilièvre has accused the government of covering up.
Poilièvre recently wrote to Secretary of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc saying that – after David Johnston stepped down as Special Rapporteur on foreign interference – he would not name people who could lead a public inquiry until the government committed to holding one.
Thomas says Chong ‘should have been told’
Criticism of the government’s handling of the situation was particularly fierce when it came to a 2021 CSIS intelligence analysis that said Chinese officials may have targeted the overseas family of a Canadian MP.
That MP turned out to be Michael Chong, now the Conservatives’ foreign affairs critic. Chong is said to have been targeted by Beijing in response to his advocacy for the persecuted Uyghur minority.
Chong himself was only made aware of the CSIS report two months ago when it appeared in the Globe. In the immediate aftermath, Prime Minister Trudeau said his office never received the document. He had to come back later in the week and acknowledge that it had been received but not brought to his attention.
“I have to admit that Michael Chong should have been told that while there was no physical risk to his family, there was interest in his family as a result of his work on the Uyghur motion. I agree,” Thomas told Cullen. .
Thomas blames the mishandling of Chong’s case on “an inadequate process” but said reforms have been made to ensure that intelligence information flows more effectively to politicians and officials.
“I think generally actionable information is being acted upon,” she said. “This was more anomalous than it sounds, because we’ve been talking about foreign interference for quite some time.”
Thomas said she believes the national security apparatus failed when it came to advising the government — not when it came to producing or disseminating intelligence.
“It’s what we do with information when we read it… It has no value unless acted upon,” she said. Thomas added that “new governance and accountability” would help close gaps where information pertaining to multiple departments may have been left in the dark.