The interim commissioner of the RCMP says he would support additional laws that allow police to further crack down on foreign interference in Canada, as well as ways to further collaborate with intelligence officials on the issue.
But Mike Duheme adds multiple investigations remain underway that he’s confident will lead to criminal charges, though he did not give specifics.
“When you ask any police officers if we can have more laws — if we can have additional legislation that would ensure that it would assist us as we move forward, but also ensure the safety of the public and of Canadians — I’d say yes, I’m favorable for that and very supportive,” Duheme told Mercedes Stephenson in an interview that aired Sunday on The West Block.
He pointed to the case in November where a Hydro-Quebec employee was charged with alleged espionage on behalf of China as an example of a successful RCMP investigation into foreign interference.
“We were successful in laying charges against this individual, and we have other files that are moving forward that we will be successful in laying charges,” said Duheme, who was previously deputy commissioner of federal policing and oversaw foreign interference investigations as part of his mandate.
Duheme would not say if those charges were related to the alleged Chinese-operated “police stations” the RCMP says it is investigating in the Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal areas.
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He said those investigations are ongoing and urged anyone with information to reach out to investigators. Although he would not say if anyone has been arrested in connection to the stations, he suggested laws were in place to potentially prosecute those involved.
“Well, if you look at if there’s any form of intimidation or harassment on the community, that’s a charge in itself,” he said.
“So, again, our investigations are continuing in those matters. And if we gather enough evidence to lay the appropriate charges, we will do so.”
Duheme was appointed to the top job on an interim basis last month, taking over for outgoing commissioner Brenda Lucki as the government seeks a permanent replacement.
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Foreign interference in Canada has become a top concern after months of reports by Global News and the Globe and Mail on alleged attempts by China to influence the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, citing national security sources and classified reports.
A panel of independent experts has determined the alleged attempts at interference did not influence the results of those elections, though acknowledged interference attempts took place.
Yet the reports have cast a spotlight on how the government and Canada’s intelligence and public safety agencies — including the RCMP — is combating attempts by China and other hostile foreign actors to influence Canadian society, including its elections.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed former governor general David Johnston as a special rapporteur to oversee a series of probes into the matter, who will make recommendations on further steps the government can take to protect Canadian interests.
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Duheme confirmed the RCMP is investigating who leaked the reports from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to the media. He added the RCMP can only investigate allegations in intelligence reports if they contained “actionable intelligence” that could be used as evidence in a criminal proceeding.
Duheme told MPs last month that no “actionable intelligence” was received by the RCMP regarding recent federal elections.
Asked if CSIS has stood in the way of that, Duheme said the RCMP and CSIS have different ways of operating with intelligence that could be better coordinated.
“That’s been that’s been a sticking point for several years,” he said. But there’s teams that have been working on it to see how we can change that.”
Foreign intelligence is just one of many areas that the RCMP is tasked with investigating, along with its commitments to frontline policing in urban and rural areas, combating organized crime and drug trafficking, counterintelligence and even assisting the military in defence operations.
That wide mandate — and whether the force is equipped to handle it all adequately — was laid bare by the final report of the Mass Casualty Commission, which studied the police response to the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia that killed 22 people.
The report released Thursday detailed the RCMP’s various failures in preventing, responding to, and reacting in the aftermath of the tragedy, and said the institution as a whole needs to be re-examined.
Duheme said he welcomed the opportunity to review the RCMP’s structure and that work was already underway looking at how its provincial units operate front-line policing.
He added the issue of staffing and adequate resources has long plagued the department and is something he is committed to addressing.
“There’s less and less of an appetite to join as a police officer,” he said. “But what we’re doing is we’re using our current resources to make sure that they are mobilized, and (we) are looking at the immediate threat, or prioritizing the work that needs to be done.”
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