Tories Decry Their Limited Role in Foreign Interference Inquiry

Tories Decry Their Limited Role in Foreign Interference Inquiry
The Peace Tower rises above the West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in a file photo. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Andrew Chen

The Conservatives have expressed disapproval over the recent decision by the Foreign Interference Commissioner to limit their standing in the forthcoming public inquiry.

On Dec. 4, Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue issued her decision on the standing applications for the inquiry. The inquiry, set to commence in January, will unfold in two phases: first, a factual phase will focus on investigating allegations of interference from China and other malign foreign actors in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, followed by a policy phase to explore counteractions against such interference.

Ms. Hogue granted applicants standing in three categories: those that have full participation rights including access to non-public documents and the ability to question witnesses in the factual inquiry; interveners that can make submissions and access evidence available to the public during the factual inquiry, and a third group that has standing in the policy phase.

The Conservative Party, along with seven other individuals and groups, was granted intervener status in the initial phase of the inquiry. Other entities with intervener standing include former Conservative leader Erin O'Toole, the NDP, Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, and various civil organizations.

Sebastian Skamski, spokesperson for Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, told The Globe and Mail that Ms. Hogue’s decision undermines the credibility of the inquiry. The Official Opposition also expressed concerns that the Liberals effectively obtained full standing, as the federal government was granted this right, according to the Globe.

When questioned about the Conservatives’ concerns, Michael Tansey, spokesperson for the commission, told The Epoch Times that akin to judges refraining from commenting on cases before them, the Commissioner would not provide comments beyond her decision. He referred to specific sections in Ms. Hogue’s decision to provide the rationale for granting standing to political parties.

Others granted full standing in the factual phase include former Liberal MP Han Dong and Michael Chan, the deputy mayor of Markham, Ont.

Mr. Dong resigned from the Liberal caucus to sit as an Independent MP in March, shortly after a Global News report, citing national security sources, accused him of inappropriate ties to the Chinese consulate.
Mr. Chan, a former Ontario cabinet minister, faces allegations of engaging in improper activities related to the 2019 and 2021 general elections. A Feb. 13 Globe report, citing an anonymous source, said that Canadian security officials had warned the Prime Minister’s Office in 2019 about Mr. Chan’s ties to spies for Communist China.

Ms. Hogue rejected Mr. O'Toole’s argument that his case holds a “direct and substantial” interest to the Commission, despite his claims of being a target of Chinese interference.

“I do not consider Mr. O’Toole to have as direct and substantial an interest as, for example, Mr. Dong or Mr. Chan. These individuals have important reputational interests that are not present in Mr. O’Toole’s case,” she wrote in the decision.

In May, Mr. O'Toole told the House of Commons that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had alerted him that he was targeted by Beijing in a voter suppression and misinformation campaign during the 2021 federal election.

‘Most Targeted’

In their standing application, the Conservatives highlighted that their candidates in the 2019 and 2021 elections were “among the most targeted by the Chinese government.” Specifically, they pointed to MP Michael Chong, who has been a target of Beijing’s disinformation campaign.
In a May 1 report, The Globe cited a 2021 CSIS assessment revealing that China’s intelligence service had targeted Canadian MPs associated with a parliamentary motion condemning Beijing’s oppression of Uyghurs. The agency also indicated that a Chinese intelligence officer had sought information about an unnamed MP’s relatives in China.
The Globe also cited a separate security source who alleged that Mr. Chong, the motion’s sponsor, was targeted and that Zhao Wei, a Chinese diplomat in Toronto, was involved. Following the report, Canada declared Mr. Zhao persona non grata.

Mr. Skamski also expressed concerns about Ms. Hogue’s warning regarding potential partisanship in the inquiry. Speaking to the Globe, he stated, “Justice Hogue’s comments pre-emptively singling out Conservatives for a warning about partisanship suggests bias.”

In response to the Conservatives referencing Mr. Chong’s case, the Commissioner stated, “Generally, it is undesirable to use public inquiries as a way to advance political parties’ positions.” However, she acknowledged that in Mr. Chong’s case, the interests of the political party are “sufficiently direct and substantial to the mandate of the Commission.” She reiterated a similar warning to the NDP, cautioning against using the inquiry as “a platform for partisan debate.”

The Commissioner stated in her decision that if Mr. Chong wished, he could submit an application for standing as an individual independent of the Conservative Party within five days of the release of Ms. Hogue’s decision.

Mr. Chong has declined to comment on the issue, a spokesperson told The Epoch Times in a Dec. 6 email.