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By Steve Scherer

Canada's former Conservative leader says China 'orchestrated' campaign against him

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gestures to Conservative Party leader Erin O'Toole as he speaks during the federal election French-language leaders debate, in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada September 8, 2021. Justin Tang/Pool via REUTERS

Canada's spy agency told former Canadian Conservative Party leader Erin O'Toole that China campaigned to discredit him and suppress votes ahead of the 2021 election he lost to Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, O'Toole said on Tuesday.

In a briefing on Friday, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) informed O'Toole about intelligence saying Beijing had targeted him in 2021, when he was Conservative leader and running to defeat Trudeau.

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Conservative Party leader Erin O'Toole speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada January 31, 2022. REUTERS/Blair Gable

"The CSIS briefing confirmed to me what I had long suspected - that my party, several of my parliamentary caucus members and myself were the target of a Chinese orchestrated campaign of disinformation and voter suppression in the run up to and during the 2021 general election," O'Toole said in the House of Commons.

The prime minister has come under pressure from opposition parties in parliament to open a public inquiry into foreign election interference even though a special rapporteur into allegations of Chinese election meddling recommended against one last week.

The opposition parties renewed calls for a public inquiry on Tuesday. O'Toole blamed the government for failing to pass on the intelligence about Chinese meddling to members of parliament.

"The (Chinese) communist government's ideal outcome is to have its critics pull their punches and turn a blind eye," O'Toole said, to create "a chilling effect on our parliamentary democracy".

Members and senior advisers of the government "are being willfully blind to attacks on our parliamentary democracy," O'Toole said.

Trudeau expelled a Chinese diplomat earlier this month for allegedly seeking to target a Conservative politician's family in Hong Kong in 2021, prompting a tit-for-tat response by Beijing.

The prime minister has acknowledged that there has long been Chinese interference, but has said it did not undermine the integrity of the 2019 and 2021 election results.

Trudeau's office had no immediate response to O'Toole's statements. The Chinese embassy in Ottawa also had no immediate comment.

O'Toole announced earlier this year he would be leaving politics and the House of Commons on June 23.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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