Trudeau Liberals withheld foreign interference documents from China inquiry: report

“Approximately 9% of the 33,000 documents provided by the government contain one or more redactions,” said the Privy Council Office. Other foreign meddling documents were not provided due to solicitor-client privilege.

Trudeau Liberals withheld foreign interference documents from China inquiry: report
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The Trudeau Liberals refused disclosure of government documents to the Foreign Interference Commission, citing cabinet confidentiality.

Justice Marie-Josée Hogue, who oversees the inquiry into foreign meddling, did not receive an undisclosed number of cabinet documents on interference by China and other hostile countries.  

The May 3 report Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions quietly acknowledged redactions in some cabinet documents. It claims that “discussions as to the applications of these privileges are ongoing.”

However, the Privy Council Office (PCO), which reports directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, walked back a promise of full access by Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

Privy Council staff redacted some 10% of documents provided to the inquiry, with many more completely withheld, according to the Globe and Mail.

A spokesperson for Justice Hogue had no further comment. “In light of the ongoing discussions with the government on document production, the commission has nothing to add at this time,” reads a statement.

A PCO spokesperson justified the decision, claiming to have given the Commission access to “relevant information” on foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections.

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. 

“As of May 17, 2024, approximately 9% of the 33,000 documents provided by the government contain one or more redactions. Other documents covered entirely by these exemptions have not been provided to the commission,” reads a statement to the publication.

During the Public Order Emergency Commission into the 2022 invocation of the Emergencies Act, the Privy Council only disclosed 13% of 31,844 documents.  Canadians will wait decades to see the confidential memos and emails, reported Blacklock’s Reporter

Conservative MP Michael Chong, a victim of foreign surveillance by Chinese agents, said it is imperative for the Prime Minister to release all cabinet documents to this impartial inquiry.

“If Justice Hogue is going to fulfill her mandate, she needs access to all the cabinet documents to find out who in the Trudeau government knew about PRC [People’s Republic of China] interference and what they do about it,” said Chong, whose family members in Hong Kong were also targeted.

The PCO attributed solicitor-client privilege to the decision. “Discussions about document collection, production, and appropriate disclosure have been, and remain ongoing,” said the spokesperson.

On the Emergencies Act, Justice Minister Arif Virani cited solicitor-client privilege for not disclosing some of the documents.

Democracy Watch, a national citizen advocacy group, has joined the fray in calling for the federal government to lead by example. Duff Conacher, co-founder of the group, urged the disclosure of all foreign meddling documents—without redactions—to Justice Hogue.

“The secrecy makes it impossible for the inquiry commissioner to determine who knew what, when they knew it, and what they did,” Conacher said.

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.

“If the Trudeau cabinet continues to hide records from the inquiry, Canadians are justified in assuming that disclosure of the records would make the cabinet look bad and that is why the records are being kept secret,” Conacher added.

Justice Hogue concluded that foreign interference in 2019 and 2021 undermined the electoral process, suggesting a small number of ridings were not “free from coercion or covert influence.”

She identified China as the “most persistent and sophisticated foreign-interference threat to Canada” at the moment.

In decreasing order, Liberal supporters, followed by NDP and Tory voters, have faith that current legislation will adequately address foreign meddling.

Bill C-70, the Countering Foreign Interference Act, will amend the Canadian Criminal Code to make foreign interference a criminal offence. It will also create a foreign agent registry, and change how Canadian intelligence collects and shares information.

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

The inquiry concluded its core public hearings phase on April 12 and released a 194-page interim report on foreign interference on May 3.

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