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Canadian government probing allegations Poland wanted to surveil former Alberta cabinet minister

The federal government is looking into allegations the Polish government has dismissed one of its diplomats over their refusal to gather information on the social and political activities of former Alberta cabinet minister Thomas Lukaszuk, CBC News has learned.

Warsaw says it acted within its rights

PC Alberta leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk speaks during the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership forum in Edmonton, Alberta on Thursday Aug. 21, 2014.

The federal government is looking into allegations the Polish government has dismissed one of its diplomats over their refusal to gather information on the social and political activities of former Alberta cabinet minister Thomas Lukaszuk, CBC News has learned.

"This is a violation of international diplomatic protocols and agreements. This definitely infringes on my human rights or my charter rights," Lukaszuk told CBC News in an interview.

"I would never expect that Polish diplomacy would be engaging in such activities… Any random ministry cannot simply surveil Polish Canadians abroad."

Lukaszuk, who served as deputy premier in former Progressive Conservative premier Alison Redford's government, believes he's a target for his activism against a controversial Polish pastor, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, who has private radio and television stations in Poland.

Rydzyk has been criticized for sermons with homophobic and anti-Semitic views, as well as preaching against abortion and the European Union.

In 2020, Lukaszuk — a regular Alberta politics commentator on CBC Television — and Jewish advocacy group B'nai Brith successfully pushed for the Edmonton archdiocese to forbid Rydzyk from delivering sermons during a visit, and for a Toronto radio station to stop carrying programs from Rydzyk's station, Radio Maryja.

Lukaszuk said for years he dismissed rumours that the Polish foreign affairs department was soliciting information about him and directing individuals to also gather information about him.

"I actually never really paid much attention to it, because it seemed so far fetched," he said.

"Until I received a proverbial, because it was electronic, but a proverbial brown envelope."

Lukaszuk shared with CBC News what he says is a series of encrypted email exchanges dated March 13, 2022, June 14, 2022 and April of this year between a division of Poland's Foreign Affairs Department tasked with liaising with Polish diaspora communities, and the country's consul general in Vancouver, Andrzej Mańkowski.

"This is a minister instructing his staff and consulates across Canada, asking them to gather deeper information about Thomas Lukaszuk's social and political activities," Lukaszuk said.

"It definitely sent chills down my spine that as a Polish Canadian who lives in Canada more than 40 years, that government is still dispatching its officials in Canada to gather information that isn't publicly available,"

CBC News has not independently verified these are official communications, but Poland's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Zbigniew Rau, is seen addressing the emails before a Polish parliamentary committee at the end of July 2023 in a publicly available video.

In it, opposition politicians ask Rau if Mańkowski was dismissed because he did not want to spy on Lukaszuk.

One politician read out loud, in Polish, an email to Mańkowski.

According to a translation it said: "I kindly request that you prepare and forward, via the appropriate channel, an in-depth note to the department concerning the socio-political actions of Mr. Thomas Lukaszuk and their possible impact and significance for the Polish community in Alberta."

Rau answers it is adequate to recall a consul general that refuses to carry out an assignment.

Mańkowski would not speak about his departure. In an email he told CBC News "if you are preparing material about my dismissal, unfortunately I cannot comment on it."

He is scheduled to vacate his post by the end of August.

GAC says it's assessing next steps

Global Affairs said it is aware of the allegations and is taking the matter very seriously.

In a statement, the department said it has been in contact with Lukaszuk and is also assessing next steps by working with its security intelligence and community partners.

"This is not a good idea for any country to be doing through their diplomats," said Maria Popova, an associate professor in political science at McGill University.

"It is the behind the scenes of really playing out domestic Polish political infighting and involving a Canadian citizen who's had an outspoken stance on it," she said.

Popova added it is unusual for a democratic country to look into an individual's activities.

"Authoritarian regimes of course do that quite often," she said. "But democracies are usually not that concerned about individual activities and also value more, of course, freedom of speech."

Popova nevertheless said she would expect the Canadian government to tread lightly in criticizing Poland.

She said the foreign interference in question appears to be more related to domestic Polish political issues than any matter regarding Canadian politics.

"Chances are through back-channel communications that there will be a message sent," Popova said.

A spokesperson for the government of Poland's Foreign Affairs Department referred CBC News to the United Nations treaty governing international diplomatic relations.

Rzecznik Prasowy said "all instructions and orders in relation to activities and reports by the Embassy/Consulates of the Republic of Poland are within the rights and privileges determined by the Vienna Convention."

Prasowy would not confirm or deny the veracity of the emails.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Raffy Boudjikanian

Senior reporter

Raffy Boudjikanian is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He has also worked in Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal for the public broadcaster.

    With files from Natalia Weichsel

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