Paid Meng Wanzhou protest worth CSIS scrutiny, security experts say
|Toronto Star 24 Jan 2020 at 16:23|
VANCOUVER—It may have seemed like a small, quirky sideshow to an international court case, yet allegations this week that some of the protesters outside Meng Wanzhou s extradition hearing were paid or offered money is the kind of incident that raises questions of foreign interference, national security observers say.
They say they would not be surprised if Canada’s intelligence officials were looking into the co-ordination of the event.
“This is a matter for security intelligence, this is a matter for CSIS — if we have foreign powers paying Canadians to effectively sway debate,” said Christian Leuprecht, a professor of political science at Royal Military College and Queen’s University.
Experts said staging a protest to propagate an alternative narrative fits a pattern of influence and intimidation that was alleged to have been undertaken by the Chinese government in Australian political and academic circles, which led that country’s government to pass sweeping foreign interference legislation in 2018.
The Chinese consulate in Vancouver stressed this week any suggestion it had knowledge or involvement in the protest amounts to a “malicious smear.”
“We need more information to know, of course,” said Patrick Walsh, a professor of intelligence and security studies at Charles Sturt University in Australia, via email.
“It could be officials from either state or public security behind it, and this could be just one strategy in a wider disinformation and influence campaign.”
John Townsend, a spokesman for CSIS, said the agency does not comment on what investigations it is or isn’t pursuing.
A small group of mostly twenty-something protesters waving signs that read “Free Ms. Meng” and “Equal Justice” stood outside B.C. Supreme Court this week at the start of a trial to determine whether the Huawei executive should be extradited to the United States, where she is wanted on fraud charges. They later appeared in the background of reports by Chinese state broadcasters CCTV and CGTN, the South China Morning Post has reported.
Ken Bonson told the Star a friend recruited her and later deposited $150 into her account. At the courthouse, a woman she had never met before named “Joey” supplied them with posters, Bonson said. After learning more about Meng and the allegations against her, Bonson said she wished she had never taken part and felt “ashamed and embarrassed.” The Star has since spoken to the friend, who denies being paid or paying anyone to take part in the protest. The man refused to go on record for an interview. He said he did not know anyone named “Joey.”