Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim said his race is behind "insinuations" in a newspaper report connecting him to election meddling by Chinese diplomats.
Sim said at a news conference Thursday he was not aware of any foreign interference in the 2022 municipal election that saw him defeat incumbent Kennedy Stewart.
"If there’s proof of foreign interference in our election, I want to know about it, because I’m a Canadian," Sim said. " … If there was proof of this, I’d be as mad as hell as anybody else."
A Globe and Mail report said Canadian intelligence officials are concerned the Chinese Consulate in Vancouver interfered in the election by using diaspora community groups and grooming certain candidates.
The newspaper cites a Canadian Security Intelligence Service document that it said does not name the consulate's favoured mayoral and council contenders, although it wanted Stewart to lose.
Sim said the accusations are "disgusting" and racially motivated, and he found the report "incredibly disappointing" for pointing to politicians of Chinese descent.
"I'll just say it: If I was a Caucasian male, we're not having this conversation," he said.
The 2022 election resulted in Sim and his ABC party sweeping to power in Vancouver. Sim garnered 85,732 votes for mayor to Stewart's 49,593, and every candidate ABC ran for city council, park board and school trustee emerged victorious by significant margins.
Sim is Vancouver's first Canadian mayor of Chinese descent.
"We absolutely worked our butts off," Sim said of their election campaign. "We worked for four years. We had 19 candidates. We knocked on, what was it, 74,438 doors. We made — how many calls did we make — a quarter of a million phone calls? That’s just rolling up your sleeves and working.
"To say that any one person or group swung an election? I think it’s kind of crazy. I think it’s disrespectful to all the people who ran as part of ABC. I think it’s disrespectful to every single person who volunteered."
The newspaper report also mentioned Vancouver Coun. Lenny Zhou as a mainland Chinese immigrant who recently made history by speaking Mandarin at a council meeting.
The Globe and Mail quoted Vancouver activist Louis Huang who said Zhou had attended a meeting several years ago and Zhou was "absolutely" a supporter of China's government at the time.
But Huang issued an apology to Zhou late Thursday, saying on Twitter he was mistaken, that no one from the group the Alliance of the Guard of Canadian Values could recall Zhou ever attending its meetings, and that he was "very sorry for the confusion and misunderstanding."
Zhou, who was elected alongside Sim as part of the ABC slate, said he is in full support of a foreign interference probe for elections at all levels of Canada's governments because the topic of foreign interference is "non-partisan."
He said any evidence of possible foreign interference in any election for public office in Canada should be released to the public to "raise their awareness about this important issue."
Zhou also said claims that he could be influenced are false.
"I want to be very clear," Zhou said. "I am a Canadian citizen. I’ve lived in this country for almost 20 years. This is the place where I have built a life for myself and am now raising a family. I believe in free speech and I believe in democracy."
Sim said he has not had any contact with the Chinese consul general, Yang Shu, since taking office as mayor. He said, however, that he has met with consuls general representing other countries, and he "will welcome every one" who visits city hall on an official visit.
Sim also said he supports any measure that would make Canadian public institutions safer, but that allegations without proof are "a bunch of insinuations" that are "actually quite hurtful."
"I look at the history of our city, and I thought we came a long way," Sim said. "And it's very clear we have a long way to go."
Ongoing concerns about possible foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections spurred Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to name former governor general David Johnston to investigate.