MP Michael Chong's Lawyer to Foreign Interference Commission: Government Failed to Protect My Client from Chinese State Threats

'Something has clearly gone wrong, despite the expertise and dedication of our national security community,' lawyer Gib van Ert stated. 'Mr. Chong and his family have been exposed to threats of coercion by PRC officials and agents operating in this country.'

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The federal government, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, failed to inform MP Michael Chong and other Canadian politicians of foreign influence operations by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) targeting them, Chong's lawyer Gib van Ert said on Friday in Ottawa, during the fifth day and conclusion of the first week of the Foreign Interference Commission's (FIC) public hearings.

The FIC was launched by the federal government, ostensibly to investigate political interference from foreign states and non-state actors, with a particular focus on China and Russia in the context of the 2019 and 2021 general elections. Several politicians who claim to have been targeted by the CCP  including Chong, MP Jenny Kwan from British Columbia, and former MP and Conservative Party leader Erin O'Toole  are participating in the hearing through legal counsel.

"Something has clearly gone wrong, despite the expertise and dedication of our national security community," van Ert stated. "Mr. Chong and his family have been exposed to threats of coercion by PRC officials and agents operating in this country. Other MPs have also been targets, and almost all of what we know of these events has come not from awareness-raising sessions like the one we've had this week, or from statements by cabinet ministers, or from briefings of MPs, by officials, or from testimonial parliamentary hearings. Instead, almost all of what we know so far comes from newspaper reports based on sources in the intelligence community."

Van Ert asked Marie-Josée Hogue, a Quebec judge operating as the FIC's commissioner, to consider if the federal government's anticipated opposition to the public disclosures of classified documents going forward during the commission's proceedings actually serves national security imperatives: "When you hear Canada make those submissions [to prevent public disclosure of classified information], we ask, commissioner, that each time you'll be asking yourself, 'Is this truly needed to protect national security? Or am I being asked to protect something else?"

On Tuesday, Leah West, a professor at Carleton University with legal expertise regarding public inquiries and disclosure disputes, explained the federal government's power over the classification of information. Canada's Attorney General  currently MP Arif Virani from Ontario – is essentially "holding a trump card" over disputes relating to the disclosure of classification information.

The FIC  specifically Commissioner Hogue and her legal team – will have full access to solicited classified information in unredacted form. They will require the federal government's permission to publicly disclose any such information in the course of the FIC's public hearings. In the event of an irreconcilable disclosure dispute between the federal government and the commission, a resolution via federal court is possible.

John Doody, legal counsel for the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), called on Hogue to disclose as much classified information as is legally possible.

"This is a public inquiry," Doody said, "Designed to inform the public about these issues, which impact every Canadian in this country. The public nature of this inquiry must exist in more than just name."

He continued, "The public must be provided with as much information as possible. The UCC would urge this commission to press the government to carry through with their commitments that we've heard throughout this week, to work with the commission, and to push for disclosure of as much information as possible."

"The best defense against foreign interference is an educated and informed public," he concluded. "The ability for the public in Canada to be informed and educated rests with this commission."

Earlier on Friday, Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc testified. He broadly called for a balance between the need for governmental transparency via public disclosure of information and the need for the state to keep secrets to protect national security.

Despite LeBlanc saying that he would increase public transparency by being more available to news media  while saying he would urge senior intelligence officials to do the same he ignored news media's questions after his departure from the proceedings. CSIS Director David Vigneault similarly refused to answer news media questions on Thursday.

The second of three total weeks of public hearings is scheduled for March.

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