Opposition members of Parliament on a House committee seek to hear the testimony of Special Rapporteur David Johnston, a day after he recommended against holding a public inquiry into the Chinese regime’s interference in Canada’s elections.
“David Johnston’s decision is a slap in the face to diaspora groups who are subject to abuse and intimidation by hostile foreign governments and all Canadians rightly concerned about foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections and future elections,” says a May 23 letter written by six opposition MPs on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC).
Further to the letter, addressed to committee Chair Liberal MP Bardish Chagger, PROC will be meeting on May 25 to debate and potentially vote on a motion to call former governor-general Johnston to testify.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Johnston as special rapporteur on foreign interference on March 15, amid a flurry of national security leaks in the media and calls from all opposition parties to hold a public inquiry.
Trudeau said Johnston would investigate interference and the country’s response while providing recommendations, which could include holding a public inquiry.
Johnston delivered his first report on May 23 and said holding an inquiry would not be appropriate due to the nature of the information involved.
“A public inquiry examining the leaked materials could not be undertaken in public given the sensitivity of the intelligence,” he said in a press conference in Ottawa. In reacting to Johnston’s report, Trudeau said he would follow his recommendations.
Opposition party leaders have all criticized the decision, with Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre calling it a “cover up.”
The letter from the MPs from the three major opposition parties notes that PROC passed a motion calling on the government to launch a public inquiry, and a majority of MPs in the House of Commons supported the motion.
PROC has been conducting a study on foreign interference since November 2022, and its work picked up after allegations of widespread Chinese regime interference started appearing in the media.
Johnston says that some of the information reported by media has been “misconstrued” and his report, based on a review of intelligence files and interviews with officials, cast doubts on the veracity of some claims.
PROC was also tasked by the House to investigate the targeting of Conservative MP Michael Chong by Beijing. Ministers, senior security officials, and experts are slated to testify on the matter.
Conservatives have also tabled a motion to obtain the relevant documents on the issue, including the 2021 assessment from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) on the issue and the records pertaining to its distribution.
The prime minister and the minister of public safety have said they were not made aware in 2021 about Beijing’s targeting of MPs critical of the regime. The CSIS assessment made it to the office of the National Security and Intelligence Advisor but was never briefed up.
Johnston said he found “serious shortcomings” in how intelligence is communicated and processed within the government. He also said despite having found no evidence the government made a conscious decision to downplay the threat of foreign interference, it didn’t act quickly enough to face a growing problem.