Intelligence committee perplexed by Trudeau cabinet denying access to foreign meddling docs

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians continues to fight the Trudeau government for access to all the documents. They could only access four documents covered by cabinet confidence, but not hundreds of others.

Intelligence committee perplexed by Trudeau cabinet denying access to foreign meddling docs
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
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An intelligence agency oversight committee tabled a troubling report Monday on foreign meddling, only made worse by the feds “inappropriately” withholding over a thousand documents.

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) continues to fight the Trudeau government for access to all the documents, reads a separate but related report published Wednesday.

The committee only had access to four documents covered by cabinet confidence. It could not access hundreds of others.

Justice Marie-Josée Hogue, who oversees the Foreign Interference Commission, did not receive an undisclosed number of cabinet documents on interference by China and other hostile countries.  

As of May 17, 2024, approximately 9% of the 33,000 documents provided by the government contained one or more redactions. Other documents were not provided.

Privy Council staff redacted 10% of documents provided to the inquiry, with many more completely withheld.

A Privy Council Office spokesperson earlier justified the decision, citing solicitor-client privilege. They claimed the commission had access to “relevant information” on foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections.

Information discussed between cabinet ministers is not typically disclosed to permit free expression.

NSICOP questioned the appropriateness of invoking cabinet confidentiality amid the ongoing review into foreign interference.

Section 39 of the Canada Evidence Act safeguards cabinet confidentiality to protect collective decision-making by ministers. It applies specifically to documents with national security implications. 

More than half (52%) of Canadians say foreign governments have interfered “significantly” in recent elections, an Ipsos poll found. But one-third of Canadians lack confidence in the effectiveness of the independent inquiry, it reads.

“Federal departments and agencies withheld or refused the disclosure of over a thousand documents, in whole or in part, on the basis that they were cabinet confidences. Specifically, close to a quarter of these documents were withheld in their entirety,” NSICOP wrote.

The committee says greater access to confidential information from cabinet “would go some way to addressing the issues being experienced,” though a legislative change to the definition of cabinet confidence is preferred.

“It goes without saying that it is essential for the committee to have comprehensive access to all the information… to enhance the effectiveness of the security and intelligence community.”

The Monday report, Special Report on Foreign Interference in Canada's Democratic Processes and Institutions, revealed that MPs leaked confidential information to Indian government officials and advocated on the foreigners' behalf.

It also revealed a former MP had maintained a relationship with a foreign intelligence officer and sought a meeting with that officer while in a foreign country.

It did not disclose names or the party in question, prompting MPs to demand greater accountability.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said some of the claims in the NSICOP report are prefaced on unproven intelligence.

“This is an example where certain information doesn’t have the caveats that some of the intelligence documents that we would see have,” he told reporters on Monday.

“That’s one of the concerns we have in terms of leaving the impression that an individual piece of intelligence might constitute evidence or might be a fact, but I want to be careful not to speak about a specific circumstance.”

The NSICOP report on Monday said some MPs are “wittingly or semi-wittingly” helping foreign governments, confirming fears from prior reports on foreign meddling.

Justice Hogue concluded foreign interference in 2019 and 2021 undermined the electoral process in a May 3 report, Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions.

She suggested a small number of ridings were not “free from coercion or covert influence,” identifying China as the “most persistent and sophisticated foreign-interference threat to Canada.”

Another round of public hearings will take place in the fall, followed by a final report tabling recommendations in December.

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