Steven Chase and Robert Fife | Hillman Foundation

2024 Canadian Hillman Prize Winner

Steven Chase and Robert Fife
The Globe and Mail
Steven Chase and Robert Fife

The Globe and Mail’s 2023 coverage of political interference in Canada by the Chinese government triggered a national debate, dominated the country’s news agenda, and ultimately led to a public inquiry that is currently underway.

Robert Fife and Steven Chase spent months building relationships with national security sources and went to extraordinary lengths to protect them. In all, the reporters wrote 17 stories based on information from their sources and from classified documents.

These documents constituted the largest leak of national security material in Canadian history. They outlined the efforts of the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate Canada’s political system at every level.

The reporters’ initial February 17, 2023 story drew on top-secret and secret reports that exposed China’s strategy to disrupt the 2021 federal election. Chinese diplomats and their proxies backed the re-election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and worked to defeat Conservative politicians they considered unfriendly to Beijing.

Several days later, Fife and Chase reported that the Chinese government had orchestrated $1 million in donations to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and the University of Montreal law school through wealthy Chinese donors, in hopes of influencing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. After the story was published, the Foundation returned all the money received from the Chinese donors, and most of its board of directors resigned.

Newspaper headline: Chrystia Freeland rings national security alarm about founders of Canadian bank with suspected ties to China

In a subsequent story, Fife and Chase revealed that Beijing had targeted Conservative MP Michael Chong and his Hong Kong-based relatives over the MP’s campaign to spotlight China’s human rights abuses of the Uyghurs. The story shocked Chong, who had never been warned of this targeting by China, and it led to an extraordinary incident in which the prime minister, and high-placed national security officials were forced to publicly confirm the Globe’s reporting. The story identified the Chinese diplomat who had targeted Chong as Zhao Wei and, on May 9, Canada expelled him. This was the first case in decades of a Chinese diplomat being ejected from the country. The government later disclosed that former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and NDP MP Jenny Kwan had also been targeted by China before and during the 2021 election.

The Globe’s reporting prompted Trudeau to appoint former Governor General David Johnston to investigate Chinese interference in Canadian elections, but all three major opposition parties called for Johnston to step down because of perceptions that he was too close to the prime minister. Johnston, who is a family friend and served on the Trudeau Foundation, resigned as special rapporteur, paving the way for a full public inquiry in 2024. 

Fife and Chase wrote additional stories about Chinese state involvement in advanced-technology research projects at Canadian universities; about the infiltration of Chinese graduate students into Canada to collect intelligence, after they had been denied U.S. visas; and about a Canadian bank that was susceptible to Chinese state influence.

One of the key national security sources for this series wrote an essay for The Globe explaining they had risked prison by speaking to the two reporters because internal options to address the threat had been ignored.

The Globe’s reporting on Chinese state interference in the democratic process fundamentally altered the way Canadians think about their government’s willingness to confront the issue in a serious way. These stories fueled discussion about the need for vigilance and stronger measures to protect Canadian democracy, values and institutions from foreign interference and espionage. 

Further reading:

Steven Chase is a senior parliamentary reporter for The Globe and Mail. He has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He has won numerous awards for investigative journalism. He previously worked in the paper’s Vancouver and Calgary bureaus and originally joined The Globe and Mail in 1998. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun. In three instances, Chase been a member of Globe team that won a National Newspaper award. In 2023, he and colleague Robert Fife both won the Parliamentary Press Gallery’s Charles Lynch Award for outstanding national affairs coverage.

Robert Fife is The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa Bureau Chief. He is the former Ottawa Bureau Chief of the National Post and CTV National News, and host of CTV’s Question Period. He has won numerous awards for his investigative journalism. He broke the story of the SNC-Lavalin affair, that led to resignations of two senior cabinet ministers, a top lieutenant to the prime minister, and the Clerk of the Privy Council. Fife set the political agenda in 2012-2014 when he uncovered the Senate expense scandal that resulted in the resignation of Stephen Harper’s chief of staff Nigel Wright, and significant reform of Senate expenses. In 2021, Maclean’s Magazine named Fife one of the country’s 50 most powerful people. Fife is also the author of several books: A Capital Scandal: Politics, Patronage and Payoffs; Why Parliament Must Be Reformed; and Kim Campbell: The Making of a Politician

Watch the Acceptance Video