China inquiry tables concerns about special rapporteur report on foreign interference

The Commission on Foreign Interference highlighted concerns about David Johnston’s interpretation into Chinese interference last May. He later resigned as special rapporteur over the heated debate and past ties to the Trudeau family.

China inquiry tables concerns about special rapporteur report on foreign interference
The Canadian Press / Justin Tang
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Questions have been raised about David Johnston’s report into foreign interference, following the disclosure of new intelligence documents.

Information from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) called China and its proxies “highly capable and motivated” to intrude on Canada’s democratic process.

Although Johnston concurred that foreign interference “undermines the trust in our government's ability to protect our democracy,” he refused to call for a public inquiry.

"Foreign interference is not usually embodied in discrete one-off pieces of intelligence," he said, claiming public disclosures of classified intelligence "cannot be done." 

Upon publishing the initial report on May 23, Johnston recommended that Trudeau invite national security agencies to review his conclusions and grant opposition access to those deliberations as a "necessary step in transparency and accountability."

However, pressure intensified from opposition parties until the Liberal Party caved over the summer. 

The first phase of the inquiry in late January tabled heavily redacted CSIS documents. The second phase remains ongoing, with 40 witnesses expected to testify, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

On April 5, the China inquiry learned that some of the intelligence appeared to juxtapose Johnston’s interpretation into the extent China intruded in Canada’s democracy. 

For example, a Global News report named Independent MP Han Dong a "witting affiliate in China's election interference networks." Intelligence officials surveilled Dong as early as June 2019, months before his election to Parliament.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) earlier received an intelligence memo that urged the Liberal Party to rescind Dong’s nomination but refused the advice.

Azam Ishmael, national director of the Liberal Party, testified he was satisfied there were no irregularities at the Don Valley North nomination.

"In a free democracy, it is not up to unelected security officials to dictate to political parties who can or cannot run," Trudeau said in reference to the article. Last week, he claimed there was no foreign interference in Canada’s institutions.

However, that contravenes disclosed intelligence reports and testimony from Dong’s then-campaign manager Ted Lojko.

The riding is one of 13 disclosed by the Conservative Party of alleged foreign interference.

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special rapporteur on election interference, Johnston rejected widespread calls for a public inquiry last May, calling it “unnecessary.”

Opposition MPs on May 31 demanded a public inquiry into alleged election fraud by foreign agents. All but government caucus members voted for an inquiry last March 2, March 23 and May 31 but the Liberals, backed by the NDP, refused to act upon the will of Parliament.

"There have been widespread calls for a public inquiry from media, opposition parties and parliament through a motion passed in the House of Commons," said the special rapporteur in his report.

"When I began this process, I thought I would come to the same conclusion that I would recommend a public inquiry," he added.

Johnston later resigned under incredible pressure from parliamentarians amid conflict-of-interest concerns related to his past ties to the Trudeau family.

"Canadians deserve answers into whether the government failed to protect our democracy," he wrote.

On Friday, a spokesperson for Johnston said he “is not responding to any further media inquiries about his role as Independent Special Rapporteur.”

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