Given that the PRC overseas operatives are covert, extensive and intrusive, it would be very difficult for us, average Canadian voters and citizens, to detect infiltrating maneuvers or interfering tactics and to counteract with state-level sophistication.
With the PRC becoming a part of our daily reality, the best defensive mechanism that we can and should adopt, both individually and collectively, is to strengthen the democratic underpinnings of our institutions and communities by way of developing a set of “best democratic practices.”
The best practices may include but not limit to:
Look beyond Ethnicity and Follow the Money
We have to bear in mind that we are dealing with a foreign power that is authoritarian and thuggish in nature, operating via their “agents of influence” here in Canada. These agents of influence do not constitute or represent the Chinese Canadian community. Instead, they can be from any ethnic background, institution, organization or community groups.
The first step, according to columnist and China expert Jonathan Manthorpe, is to look for the agents of influence “whose incomes or reputations depend on promoting Beijing’s interests in Canada’s corridor of power.”  When applied to political leaders or candidates, it should not be too difficult for the public to look up their past record and/or any suspicious ties with the PRC or even with the CCP.
A more thorough screening of the candidates’ affiliations would be feasible to identify any potential conflicts of interest, including that of business links or personal ties that either depend too heavily on the Chinese market or embedded too deeply with any authorities in the PRC.
Institutions, organizations or community groups with PRC- or CCP-linked interests are prone to self-censorship, sometimes due to fear that their actions or inactions will anger the PRC and jeopardize their financial gain. Therefore, candidates should also be screened for what they have done or said in the past regarding Canada China relations. One key question to ask: Do they stand up for Canadian values and interests rather than trying to please or are in fear of offending the PRC?
Demand Openness and Transparency
Since most of PRC’s influence-peddling or interference would be conducted under the radar, transparency would be the best tool to reveal and expose such covert operations.
According to Manthorpe, “transparency is probably the best weapon. After leaving public office, politicians and senior officials could be required to maintain a public record of their positions and interests for, say, 20 years.”
“There is anecdotal evidence of a problem with Canadian officials and politicians, especially at the provincial and federal level, taking lucrative jobs with Chinese companies and institutions after leaving public life here. This raises questions about who they were really working for while still on the Canadian taxpayers’ ticket.”
Transparency is also an effective tool available during elections. Political parties and the candidates should insist that the ultimate donors of their campaign are known and traceable so as to make sure that their campaign finances are open and transparent. This is important even when donations are channelled through Canadian citizens.
On the voters’ side, we should also insist on full disclosure and transparency of the local campaign finances, especially the source of donations and related expenditures of our candidates.
Publicity and Media
The other aspect of being fully transparent is to call out malpractices. Voters and candidates, as well as campaign workers, have the responsibility to expose and report any request for suspicious dealings, shady acts or return favours. The responsibility lies particularly with the political parties and their candidates, who should take up the leadership role to make sure that their campaigns will involve no undesirable dealings or dark corner negotiations.
Such transparency will also benefit them in the long term, in the case when they are elected to office, that they will not be coerced, blackmailed or threatened to undertake any unethical measures that would diminish Canadian interests or compromise their discharge of public duty.
Working hand in hand, transparency and publicity would root out any covert and unduly operations under the table that try to avoid public or media scrutiny.
This will also require everyone involved in the campaigns or political activities to exercise due diligence and to conduct themselves in good faith. This will help make sure that our election laws and regulations are faithfully followed for the good of our democracy.
To incorporate democratic values in our daily life
for a free and open society
This would include dispelling any disinformation and propaganda by opening up to information through diversified and multiple sources. When reading news or information, it is important to know the major ownership or financial backers of the publication. For English or French media, it is crucial to compare what is said in Chinese and in English/French, so as to avoid being used inadvertently as a spinning tool by the PRC. More independent ethnic media should be encouraged and supported by government policies so that the Chinese Canadian community can have better access to accurate and fact-based (as opposed to opinion-based) information.
It also hinges on acting out democracy in our lives, from exercising and defending the freedom of expression, of assembly, of access to information, and freedom to choose our elected officials, among others. In other words, the best defence against the interference of the PRC and their agents of influence is a free and open society that allows every Canadian to exercise and enjoy to the full the universal shared values of freedom, civil liberties, human rights and the rule of law.
These suggestions are not exhaustive, but we will endeavor to stop any foreign power from taking advantage of our open, free and democratic system for the purpose of exploiting it contrary to Canadian interests.
Together, let us stand on guard for Canada, our home!