Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim denounced what he said were “insinuations” made in a news article alleging Canada’s spy agency found evidence of China’s Vancouver consulate interfering in last year’s municipal election.
“I’ll just say it: if I was a Caucasian male, we’re not having this conversation,” said Sim, Vancouver’s first mayor of Chinese descent.
“If there’s proof of foreign interference in our election, I want to know about it because I’m a Canadian … but right now there are a bunch of insinuations.”
Sim was reacting to a Globe and Mail report, based on information they say comes from a January 2022 Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) report, which details how China’s then-consul general talked about electing a specific Chinese Canadian candidate.
The CSIS report does not explicitly name who the candidate was, but the article talks in detail about Sim, who was elected mayor in November 2022, along with Lenny Zhou, who was also elected to council as part of Sim’s ABC Vancouver Party.
Sim said he supported “anything we can do to make our [electoral] institutions stronger” and said he had no relationship with the new consul general, but declined to comment on how serious he felt the threat of interference was.
“I don’t know. I’m not part of CSIS. I’m not part of the security infrastructure. I’m just the mayor of Vancouver,” he said.
The report came a day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced former governor general David Johnston would investigate claims that China meddled in Canada’s last two elections.
‘It was highly unusual’: former mayor
Kennedy Stewart, who defeated Sim in the 2018 election before losing to him in 2022, told CBC Power and Politics that CSIS asked to meet with him in May 2022, and they spent two hours talking about foreign interference.
“I now understand at least why CSIS was concerned,” he said.
“It was highly unusual, I’m the mayor of a city, why was CSIS briefing me?”
Stewart and the former consul general Tong Xiaoling had a frosty relationship, most notably when the idea of Vancouver establishing a friendship city relationship with Taiwan’s second-biggest city was under consideration.
“I was picking up from folks on the ground saying they are actively out there working against me in the election,” he said.
“I don’t really know what that means, I don’t have any way of surveilling anything, the Vancouver Police Department can’t really investigate its own municipality … so I just proceeded with my election.”
It was an election that Stewart lost badly — receiving 29 per cent of the vote to Sim’s 51 per cent, the highest margin of victory in a Vancouver mayoral election since 2002 — and the ex-mayor said, “I don’t think foreign interference caused my loss.”
But he said that potential interference in local elections should be looked at.
“I am deeply concerned about very aggressive interference at any level of election … this needs to get looked into, and I’m glad that Johnston is coming in to start doing that,” said Stewart.
“Municipalities are so vulnerable to election interference, we have a big election coming in Toronto, what is going on there? Who is looking at how these elections are being conducted? What information, if any, is available? Maybe there’s nothing — but we should know that.”
‘We worked our butts off’
In his answers to questions from reporters on Thursday, Sim was most animated when it came to the question of whether any potential interference resulted in him winning.
“We worked our butts off. We worked for four years,” said Sim, referencing the fact that he announced he would run again for mayor shortly after losing to Stewart the first time in 2018.
“I look at the history of our city, and I thought we came a long way. And it’s very clear we have a long way to go.”