Johnston advises against inquiry, but aims to hold hearings on foreign interference

Meddling inquiry nixed

UPDATE: 9:15 a.m.

Special rapporteur David Johnston said Tuesday that a formal inquiry into foreign interference is not needed, but that public hearings should be held as part of his own mandate.

Johnston said an inquiry could not be undertaken in public because of the sensitivity of the intelligence involved, and formal subpoena powers are not required for him to hold his own hearings with diaspora communities, academics and political stakeholders.

The former governor general's initial report into foreign interference allegations found serious issues in how intelligence from security agencies was communicated to government but didn't identify any instances where the prime minister negligently failed to act on intelligence, advice or recommendations.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Johnston in March to lead an investigation into the extent and impact of foreign interference in Canada, amid allegations that China meddled in the last two federal elections.

"There are serious shortcomings in the way intelligence is communicated and processed from security agencies through to government, but no examples have been identified of ministers, the prime minister or their offices knowingly or negligently failing to act on intelligence, advice or recommendations," Johnston's report said.

It said there is a “lack of accountability” about who is receiving what intelligence, a situation that is not acceptable given the current threat environment.

Johnston's report also concluded, based on access to classified documents and security agencies, that specific accusations of interference that have dominated the political conversation were less concerning than media reports suggested.

"When viewed in full context with all of the relevant intelligence, several leaked materials that raised legitimate questions turn out to have been misconstrued in some media reports, presumably because of the lack of this context," it said, pointing to reports from Global News and the Globe and Mail that have dominated the political conversation around interference.

Johnston said an inquiry digging into the allegations would have to take place almost entirely behind closed doors.

"That would defeat its primary purpose, which is public accountability through transparency," the report said, adding the public process should "focus on strengthening Canada’s capacity to detect, deter and counter foreign interference in our elections and the threat such interference represents to our democracy."

The report warned that excessive partisanship in the way the issue is discussed is making the country more vulnerable to external threats.

"There has been too much posturing, and ignoring facts in favour of slogans, from all parties. And many of those slogans turned out to be wrong."

Johnston’s work is expected to continue through the end of October, when he is due to present a final report to the government.

ORIGINAL: 6:25 a.m.

The man charged with recommending how best to deal with foreign interference in Canada's federal elections will finally say whether he believes a public inquiry is necessary.

Former governor general David Johnston, the special rapporteur appointed in March by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, will issue an interim report today on what he considers the best way forward.

Parliament Hill has been seized for months with whether Johnston will advise a public inquiry into whether the governing Liberals did enough to confront claims that China meddled in the 2019 and 2021 elections.

But his mandate allows for broader recommendations as well — and Johnston will announce his preferred courses of action during a long-awaited news conference at noon ET.

In addition to the inquiry question, Trudeau also tasked Johnston with recommending any other mechanisms or processes needed to "reinforce Canadians’ confidence in the integrity of our democratic institutions."

His mandate also called for an assessment of the "extent and impact" of foreign interference in Canadian elections and to "determine what the government did to defend Canada against electoral interference."

Johnston, named governor general in 2010 by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, is working with other national security agencies to identify ways they can better work together to combat foreign interference.

Opposition Conservatives are clamouring for an inquiry. Leader Pierre Poilievre refused to meet with Johnston, describing the role of special rapporteur as a "fake job."

Poilievre is deeply skeptical of Johnston, a former member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, which is under scrutiny for accepting a donation reportedly linked to the Chinese government.

The Conservative leader last week described him as "Justin Trudeau's ski buddy, his cottage neighbour, his family friend and a member of the Trudeau Foundation, which got $140,000 from Beijing."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh describes Johnston as "non-partisan" and "trustworthy," but nonetheless wants to see a public inquiry.

The Liberals have been weathering a political storm for months over whether they took the allegations of interference seriously enough.

An inquiry, while giving the government the chance to defend its actions, would also give the controversy more political oxygen — and it would be the second such investigation into the Liberal government in as many years.

It would come on the heels of last year's Public Order Emergency Commission into the federal government's response to the 2022 "Freedom Convoy" blockades in downtown Ottawa and at the Canada-U.S. border.

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