Trudeau's security adviser says concealing documents did not impede foreign interference inquiry

Cabinet said it provided roughly 46,000 documents to the Foreign Interference Commission. Nathalie Drouin, the prime minister’s national security adviser, told MPs they only shared the ‘most relevant’ intelligence to the inquiry.

Trudeau's security adviser says concealing documents did not impede foreign interference inquiry
The Canadian Press / Justin Tang and The Canadian Press / Christinne Muschi
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Withholding classified intelligence did not impede the foreign interference commission, says a top national security official.

Nathalie Drouin, the prime minister’s national security adviser, told MPs Thursday that cabinet shared the “most relevant” intelligence to the inquiry.

Cabinet said it has provided roughly 46,000 documents to the Commission, and continues to investigate alleged foreign meddling by Chinese agents, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

As of May 17, 9% of the 33,000 documents provided by the government contained one or more redactions. Other documents covered entirely by cabinet confidences have not been provided to the commission.

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

The May 3 interim report, Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions, acknowledged redactions in some cabinet documents.

That did not appear to sway Trudeau’s adviser in her testimony to a House of Commons committee.

“We shared with the commission,” Drouin said, “in a very transparent way. Things that were relevant.”

“We have already shared four MCs [memorandums to cabinet] with the commission,” she told the committee of procedure and House affairs. “Those cabinet documents were the most relevant, to the point, really addressing foreign interference.”

Drouin did not know how many confidential memos were concealed.

Conservative MP Eric Duncan compared the situation to “a courtroom trial where the accused that’s on the stand gets to choose what evidence the judge gets to see.”

Justice Marie-Josée Hogue, who oversees the foreign interference inquiry, noted obvious challenges in reviewing documents protected by cabinet confidence or solicitor-client privilege.

“People are right to be worried,” Justice Hogue wrote in a May 3 Initial Report. It claims “discussions as to the applications of these privileges are ongoing.”

Opposition MPs remained unconvinced by Drouin’s testimony amid the tight deadline for the final report.

“Ultimately, what we all want coming out of this inquiry is to have faith in the process and in the inquiry and its outcome,” said NDP MP Jenny Kwan, a target of Chinese interference. “If documents are withheld, you are going to undermine and undercut the work of the commissioner.”

“How many cabinet documents are being withheld?” asked MP Kwan. “I find this question interesting,” replied Drouin.

“If you can just give me a short answer,” said MP Kwan. “I don’t have numbers,” replied Drouin. “Many documents have been withheld.”

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc noted that public servants, not politicians, decide what information is protected by cabinet confidence.

Bloc Québécois MP Marie-Hélène Gaudreau urged LeBlanc to “stop fooling around” and asked him to “rectify the situation quickly.”

“I don’t think there is any fooling around going on,” LeBlanc replied. “On the contrary, we are very engaged in making sure the commission has access to all the documents and witnesses that it needs,” he said.

LeBlanc asserted that all federal parties understood the need to protect solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidence during last year’s inquiry terms discussion.

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), an intelligence watchdog, struggled to obtain the cabinet documents needed to fulfill its mandate. Drouin emphasized that not all cabinet documents are relevant to NSICOP's foreign interference work.

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