Trudeau will testify at foreign interference inquiry with 'enthusiasm' if called upon

Québec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue will lead the public inquiry starting on September 18, with an interim report anticipated by February 19.

Trudeau will testify at foreign interference inquiry with 'enthusiasm' if called upon
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese, Facebook/ Han Dong, and Facebook/ Dominic LeBlanc
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears to be turning a new page on Chinese interference after telling reporters he will "willingly" testify if necessary.

"Willingly and with very much enthusiasm," he said on September 8.

"I think it's important for Canadians to know exactly everything this government has been doing [regarding] foreign interference and to talk frankly about the challenges that we continue to face in our democracies around the world."

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc concurred with the prime minister, adding the federal government is committed to a public inquiry.

"We want to show Canadians that issues affecting our democracy go beyond partisan considerations," he said. 

Though light on specifics, LeBlanc assured Canadians that Opposition parties "unanimously" agreed on its broad scope and necessity in maintaining confidence in the electoral system.

On Thursday, LeBlanc tapped Québec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue, a 2015 Conservative appointee, to lead the public inquiry into foreign interference as commissioner.

Hogue will assume the position starting September 18, with an interim report expected for February 19, reported the CBC.

When the hearings will start, who will testify, and how much of Hogue's work will be public has yet to be determined. Her final report is due at the end of 2024.

"We look forward to Justice Hogue setting up the Commission of Inquiry and beginning this work," LeBlanc told reporters on September 7. 

"How much of this inquiry will be in public?" asked a reporter. "Justice Hogue will decide that," said the minister. 

"Are the cabinet and the Prime Minister willing to publicly testify?" asked another reporter. "Justice Hogue hasn't prepared a witness list," said LeBlanc.

The independent inquiry will investigate alleged interference by China, Russia, and other foreign actors of interest concerning the 2019 and 2021 elections. 

Hogue will also look into the flow of intelligence to decision-makers concerning those elections.

"Will this inquiry look at what happened in the Party nomination process?" asked a reporter. 

Documents to date have cited irregularities at a 2019 Liberal Party nomination won by MP Han Dong, reported Blacklock's Reporter.

LeBlanc replied: "The terms of reference were deliberately written to give the inquiry and the Commissioner the ability to follow the evidence."

"That's what an independent judicial inquiry does," he said.

While Cabinet acknowledged it failed to act on a 2021 pre-election warning that Chinese agents were active in federal ridings, Intelligence officials claimed they did not threaten Canada's electoral integrity.

On March 22, Dong quit the Liberal caucus following a scathing Global News report on his alleged conversations with Chinese diplomats concerning Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. 

In a subsequent April 21 libel filing in Ontario Superior Court, Dong admitted to at least 12 phone calls with the Chinese Ambassador and Consul in Toronto.

A May 23 First Report by special rapporteur David Johnston said the MP "continued to maintain close relationships" with Chinese diplomats through the 2021 campaign. 

"Irregularities were observed with Mr. Dong's nomination in 2019, and there is well-grounded suspicion the irregularities were tied to the China Consulate in Toronto with whom Mr. Dong maintained relationships," said the First Report.

Dong denied any impropriety during those talks but has yet to be questioned by a parliamentary committee on its contents, reported Blacklock's Reporter.

He subsequently joined Opposition MPs on May 31, demanding 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.

In a statement late Thursday, China vehemently denied all allegations of electoral fraud, with the embassy accusing the feds of continuing to "hype up the lies" on Chinese interference. 

"With ulterior political motives, some Canadian politicians and media have been spreading lies and disinformation against China for a long time," it said. "China strongly deplores and firmly opposes this." 

On May 1, the feds confirmed a 2021 plot by Chinese diplomats to intimidate Conservative MP Michael Chong and his relatives in response to a Parliamentary motion condemning China's mistreatment of Uyghur Muslims.

"The Trudeau Liberals have known these top-secret reports for two years and did nothing," claimed Conservative Immigration critic Tom Kmiec.

Verified media reports confirmed that the same Chinese spy also targeted the families of NDP MP Jenny Kwan. Canada expelled Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei a week later.

On August 10, Cabinet confirmed it was "highly probable" the Chinese Embassy used Chinese-language WeChat to slander MP Chong this past May. Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu blamed a similar WeChat campaign for his 2021 election loss.

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