When the Ford government went to CSIS late last year asking for clarity on allegations that one of their MPPs was part of a foreign election interference network, they weren’t given access to a vault of secret files.
In fact, getting any information took weeks and what was eventually delivered was general and vague, according to Premier Doug Ford.
The Ford government was first made aware of allegations against MPP Vincent Ke in early November when approached with questions by Global News. Global was citing CSIS documents, prepared for the prime minister, alleging that the Chinese Consulate in Toronto had organized money – some $250,000 – and volunteers to assist 11 federal election candidates in the GTA.
Part of the report stated that a sitting member of the Ontario legislature was involved in organizing the election interference scheme.
Senior officials in the premier’s office reached out to the Provincial Security Advisor, Chris Letang, to find out if he had received any information from CSIS regarding Ke. According to sources, Letang, a former CSIS agent himself, had not received any information on Ke.
A briefing was requested to find out what the intelligence service in Ottawa had on Ke if anything.
Getting that briefing from CSIS took more than a month but in early December, the premier’s then chief-of-staff Jamie Wallace met with CSIS agents at the offices of Ontario’s Solicitor General on Grosvenor Street in downtown Toronto, a short walk from the premier’s office.
“Concerns, not evidence,” is how one person familiar with the briefing described what CSIS shared with Wallace.
There were no hard facts or evidence presented about Ke or the alleged interference network and the CSIS agents spent more time discussing how every level of government and every political party was a target for China’s political interference.
LILLEY: For Dong and Ke to clear their names, we need a public inquiry
LILLEY: No Mr. Trudeau, you aren’t serious about China’s interference
Wallace shared what he had learned with Premier Doug Ford but without hard evidence, hardly even allegations against Ke, it was decided not to remove him from the PC caucus.
That changed of course when Ke was named in a subsequent Global story on March 10, 2023. Within hours of the story breaking, Ke had been removed from his role as a Parliamentary Assistant and a short time later announced he was stepping down from the PC Party caucus to focus on clearing his name.
Ke has always denied the allegations against him, both in person and through his lawyer.
According to those familiar with the matter, one of the key questions put to CSIS in the briefing with Wallace was whether they had anything that would stand up in court. CSIS, being an intelligence agency and not a police service, doesn’t collect evidence, they deal in information.
The answer to Wallace’s question was no, CSIS didn’t have evidence but that also isn’t what they do.
It’s an odd position to put governments in, presenting them with allegations of wrongdoing but not with evidence but expecting them to act. Premier Ford has defended his position regarding Ke and has said that he wants to welcome him back into the PC caucus if he clears his name.
Without evidence that he can refute or a public inquiry, that will be difficult for Ke.
While Ford says he believes Ke will clear his name, that’s not the view of everyone in the PC Party, with some questioning why Ke was allowed to run in the first place. Either way, everyone is dealing with shadows, the media outlets who are getting leaks for stories and people like Ke and federal MP Han Dong. who are boxing the shadows leaking the information.
It’s one reason why a public inquiry, a move I don’t normally support, is required so that the air can be cleared.