Canada didn’t ignore election interference intelligence: Report

A report by a special rapporteur has been met with anger from Canadian conservatives who are pushing for a public inquiry.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has denied criticism that he ignored warnings of Chinese election interference, particularly against conservative politicians [File: Blair Gable/Reuters]

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government did not ignore evidence of Chinese meddling, a special rapporteur said on Tuesday after probing media reports based on leaked intelligence that said Beijing sought to influence elections and policy.

Trudeau welcomed the report but opposition parties continued to push for a public inquiry.

In March, the government appointed David Johnston, formerly Canada’s governor general, as a special rapporteur to investigate media coverage of intelligence reports that alleged multiple cases of Chinese meddling. Johnston was also tasked with advising on whether to conduct an official public inquest.

“I have not found instances of the government knowingly ignoring intelligence, advice or recommendations on foreign interference, or making decisions based on partisan considerations in dealing with these issues,” said Johnston in a 55-page report.

China has repeatedly denied any interference. Beijing’s embassy in Ottawa again denied meddling on Tuesday and a spokesman said the leaks were part of a campaign “to smear China”.

Johnston had access to classified memos and conducted interviews with the prime minister as well as other Cabinet members and top intelligence officials. He found many of the leaks to have been based on “limited and partial intelligence” or even false information.

“However, there are significant governance shortcomings in the way intelligence is communicated from security agencies to the various government departments,” he added.

The prime minister has come under pressure from opposition parties in parliament to open a public inquiry into foreign election interference. But when Johnston recommended against one in Tuesday’s report, Trudeau said he would follow his advice.

A public inquiry “would prolong, but not enhance, the process”, the report said. It explained that most of the inquest would necessarily be secret because of the classified nature of the information.

Johnston urged opposition leaders to get clearance to read the secret parts of his report but if they do so, they would be constrained by law not to speak about those details in public.

“I will not be silenced,” said Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre. “This report was rigged from the start and has zero credibility”. Poilievre accused Johnston of being a friend of the Trudeau family, which Johnston denies.

Conservatives alleged Trudeau ignored the intelligence reports because the meddling benefitted his Liberal Party in elections. Members of the left-leaning New Democrats, who support Trudeau’s minority government in parliament, also want an inquest.

“We remain resolute that a public inquiry is necessary to restore the confidence in our electoral system,” New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters.

Earlier this month, Trudeau’s government expelled a Chinese official after it emerged he had sought information about Conservative legislator Michael Chong’s family, prompting China’s tit-for-tat expulsion of a Canadian diplomat.

Instead of a new public inquest, Johnston said he will spend the next five months holding public hearings on the issue because “foreign governments are undoubtedly attempting to influence candidates and voters in Canada”.

Source: Reuters