Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

Ottawa Urged Facebook to Remove False Trudeau Report Prior to 2019 Election, Inquiry Reveals

In the lead-up to the 2019 election, a fabricated report alleging a scandal involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a former student was flagged and subsequently removed from Facebook at the request of government officials, citing concerns over election integrity.

Conservative frustration mounted following recent revelations of misinformation targeting Conservative candidates on Chinese social media platform WeChat in 2021, leaving some with the perception of governmental indifference.

Allen Sutherland, an assistant secretary at the Privy Council Office (PCO), testified at the Public Inquiry on Foreign Interference that Facebook alerted him to the false report about Trudeau in the days leading up to the election. The report, published by the American website Buffalo Chronicle, baselessly claimed Trudeau had engaged in inappropriate conduct with a student during his tenure at Vancouver’s West Point Grey Academy.

Sutherland, acting under the directive of then-Privy Council clerk Ian Shugart, approached Facebook to have the report removed to prevent potential electoral disruption. The decision not to publicly address the report was made by the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol, comprising Shugart and other officials, out of concern that any intervention might inadvertently amplify the misinformation.

While the false report was monitored by the 2019 Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) Task Force, its suppression efforts were not known to the task force members. Gallit Dobner, a member of the task force, noted that the Buffalo Chronicle’s dubious practices were under scrutiny, though there was no evidence of foreign involvement.

Conservative MP Michael Chong’s legal counsel questioned the disparity in response between the false report and the WeChat misinformation targeting Chinese Canadians. Sutherland defended the action, emphasizing the potentially national impact of the Buffalo Chronicle article.

Despite efforts to debunk the false claims, including investigations by Canadian political reporters, the rumors persist in certain circles. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre referenced the unsubstantiated allegations in the House of Commons, reflecting the enduring nature of the misinformation.

Trudeau’s tenure at the academy, where he served from 1998 to 2001, remains a subject of scrutiny, with false allegations continuing to circulate despite efforts to address them. ( Courtesy National Post
calevesque@postmedia.com )

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