Conservatives criticize judge's decision not to grant them full standing in foreign interference inquiry

Justice Marie-Josée Hogue granted intervenor status to the opposition parties, which will prevent them from asking witnesses questions or accessing non-public evidence during the first phase of the inquiry.

Conservatives criticize judge's decision not to grant them full standing in foreign interference inquiry
The Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick
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The Conservative Party of Canada is criticizing a decision by the judge overseeing the public inquiry into foreign interference in Canada's elections, saying that not allowing them full standing in the inquiry undermines its credibility.

On Monday, Justice Marie-Josée Hogue issued a ruling granting intervenor status in the first stage of the inquiry to both the Conservatives and the New Democratic Party (NDP). Intervenor standing grants a party the ability to make submissions and see public evidence, but the ability to question witnesses and see non-public evidence is reserved for those granted full party standing. 

According to the Globe and Mail, Sebastian Skamski, Director of Media Relations for the Opposition Leader’s Office, said that Hogue's decision undermines the credibility of the commission, which is set to begin holding hearings next month. 

The Conservatives argue it was their party that was targeted by alleged Chinese interference in the 2021 federal election.

In May, former leader Erin O'Toole said he had been briefed by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) that China intended to discredit him and promote false narratives about his policies while party leader. Conservative MP Michael Chong and his family were also targeted by Chinese diplomat Wei Zhao after he tabled legislation condemning China's treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority.

The foreign interference inquiry is set to take place in two stages. The first is meant to examine the factual side of the interference, while the second is aimed at figuring out what policies are required to combat it in the future. The opposition parties have been granted full standing in the second phase, but not the first.

While the Liberal Party of Canada itself did not make a formal request for standing, the government has been granted full party standing in the inquiry.

“Political parties are not bit players in this story; they are central to the issues at hand,” said Skamski. “Conservative candidates and MPs have been specifically targeted by Beijing’s efforts to influence our elections and reports from the media have suggested that it was the explicit strategy of the CCP to target the Conservative Party and benefit Liberals.”

Justice Hogue wrote in her ruling that she granted party standing to those who "have something on the line in the commission's findings."

“The decision by Justice Hogue to deny full standing to the Conservative Party in the public inquiry is deeply concerning and undermines the credibility of the entire process,” Mr. Skamski said. “Political parties are directly affected by foreign interference in our democracy.”

Justice Hogue also took time in her ruling to specifically warn the Conservative Party against turning the inquiry into a “partisan debate between opposing political factions.”

“Justice Hogue’s comments pre-emptively singling out Conservatives for a warning about partisanship suggests bias,” said Skamski. 

“Conservatives will not relent in our efforts to protect Canadians, protect our democracy, and get the truth for Canadians.”

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