CityCaucus Redux: CSIS Director Fadden on ‘agents of influence’ in B.C.


Which BC municipal politicians are "foreign influenced"? (video)

Today we’re featuring a CityCaucus Redux post of a story we ran last June about the stunning public admission by Canada's "top spy," CSIS Director Richard Fadden, that "agents of influence" existed within a municipal level government in British Columbia. You can watch both parts of CBC National's interviews posted by us here (it has had over 5000 views already) and here (the longer segment, also featured above). This week CBC did a follow-up story based upon a report obtained by the Canadian Press under Freedom of Information. Although heavily redacted, Fadden wrote "Politicians are targeted to solicit support for policies and positions that favour the interests of the foreign state or entity."

The longer interview with Fadden above (not featured in our original post) has a better explanation of how these "agents of influence" are cultivated. We should point out that one media source in particular – The Globe and Mail – was responsible for the initial inaccurate suggestion that Fadden’s remarks were specifically referring to China wielding this influence. It resulted in a flurry of reporting by local ethnic media, and charges by some that Vision Vancouver councillors George Chow, Raymond or Kerry Jang were these "influencers" on policy with national implications. Anyone who has watched Vancouver City Hall as closely as us know that the real power is wielded only in the Mayor's office and not by individual members of the Vision caucus. Neither Chow, Louie nor Jang have that kind of influence over the wishes of Mike Magee or Gregor Robertson.

Fadden studiously avoided pointing fingers at any country or individuals in his interviews, leaving the country to guess which municipal politicians in B.C. could be meddling in national affairs on behalf of a foreign power.

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CBC National news in an ongoing series of interviews with CSIS Director Richard Fadden led tonight's broadcast with a shocking accusation from Fadden. So-called "agents of influence" for foreign governments are elected officials in at least two Provincial cabinets, and "several" municipal elected officials in British Columbia are also under investigation.

In an interview with Brian Stewart, Fadden states that there are "political figures who have developed quite an attachment to foreign countries". He has not revealed which provinces have people in cabinet with foreign ties, but he explicitly identified BC as the place where "several members of municipal governments" have become so-called "secret supporters" or agents of influence.

Fadden explains how this usually comes about:

A number of countries take the view that if they can develop influence with people relatively early in their careers, they’ll follow them through. Before you know it a country is providing them with money, there’s some kind of covert guidance.

Stewart reports that there are shockwaves already reverberating through several circles at the admission, which comes on the eve of the G8/G20 meetings in Ontario. Stewart says, "it is possible that CSIS feels compelled by a sense of profound national danger." It's felt that this is a strong message from CSIS to let these political figures know that they're being scrutinized.

In his discussion on-air with Peter Mansbridge – who called the story "stunning" – Stewart repeated that the "unprecedented" revelation may come from CSIS being "profoundly worried" about the amount of influence coming into Canada from foreign sources.

The fact that the head of Canada’s national security service is pointing to BC is an astonishing allegation. Not surprisingly there is some alarm from critics such as Wesley Wark, a history professor from the University of Toronto quoted by Canwest News tonight. “What on Earth is the CSIS director doing making this public? Why is he coming forward with this information?”, asked Wark.

Also predictably there is alarm coming from other political critics. "Spartikus", the left wing blog commenter and library worker left this note tonight on the Vancouver Sun website:

This is grossly irresponsible on the part of Fadden – either you have the evidence to charge them with espionage, or you don’t. If the latter, it’s slander – and you undermine citizens faith in the political system…for what, really? What’s the purpose? Deflection?

CityCaucus.com has written extensively about US influence in local and provincial politics within BC. We’ve maintained the view that openness and full disclosure are the tools to build trust with voters.

To date our efforts to get Vision Vancouver to be more transparent about their 2008 debt, campaign financing and current sources of money to bankroll their current operations have been met by silence. Perhaps a greater sense of urgency on opening their party’s books will follow this heightened awareness of political influence in our province.

Needless to say Fadden's comments will receive a lot of attention out on Canada's left coast. Who indeed is the CSIS Director speaking about? Which countries are involved in this influence? Stewart's report suggests that not only are "the usual suspects" considered (i.e. Russia, China, India), but traditional allies such as the UK and USA are also seeking advantages over those they compete with for markets.

Fadden’s message is that we can no longer take the issue of our national security for granted. He is in effect asking the public to pay closer attention. Stewart’s voice over in the extended documentary spells out some of the most concerning issues:

Among the most sensitive files at CSIS…concern foreign interference in Canadian politics. A half-dozen countries are thought to be trying to turn some of our politicians into agents of influence. With success at municipal levels in British Columbia, and even in two provinces at the cabinet level.

There will be a lot of discussion about this among media, the public and within governments. Fadden will eventually have to reveal more information, or spell out his objectives. I rarely agree with Spartikus on issues, but I share his concerns about Fadden's general comment that there is somebody "out there" we must scrutinize more closely. It can lead to irrational fear and suspicion of our elected officials, making it even more difficult to govern effectively.

Let’s hope Fadden clarifies himself in the weeks to come.

UPDATE January 8, 2011: Since our original post Fadden did not elaborate on his remarks except in the pages of his report, shared this week by CBC/CP. However, after considerable pressure from CityCaucus.com Vision Vancouver finally revealed its final list of 2008 campaign donors last July, albeit nearly 15 months past the date required by the Vancouver Charter.

- post by Mike

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