Critics, Opposition Leaders Bemoan Johnston’s Decision Against Calling Public Inquiry on Election Interference

Critics, Opposition Leaders Bemoan Johnston’s Decision Against Calling Public Inquiry on Election Interference
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thumbs through the “First Report” by David Johnston, special rapporteur on foreign Interference, during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 23, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)
Peter Wilson
All federal opposition leaders and various national officials are criticizing Special Rapporteur David Johnston’s decision not to call for a public inquiry into foreign interference in Canada’s last two general elections.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh all stated their disappointment with Johnston’s decision shortly after he announced it around midday on May 23.

Poilievre told reporters in Quebec City that calling a public inquiry would’ve been “common sense“ and accused the prime minister of only appointing Johnston as special rapporteur in order to ”help Trudeau cover up the influence by Beijing in our democracy.”

“We know that Beijing interfered in two elections to help Trudeau win,” Poilievre said. “We know that Beijing gave $140,000 to the Trudeau Foundation with the express purpose of buying the love and the loyalty of Justin Trudeau.”

Poilievre was referring to a Beijing-linked donation sent in 2016 to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, a charity established in memory of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, father of current PM Justin Trudeau. Johnston was previously a member of the foundation.

Johnston, who was appointed by Justin Trudeau in March to investigate reports of foreign interference in Canada’s 2019 and 2021 general elections, filed his first report on the matter on May 23.

In the report, Johnston said a public inquiry can’t be held since the classified information informing the matter cannot be publicly revealed.

In a Twitter post shortly after the announcement, Bloc Leader Blanchet wrote in French that Johnston’s decision shows that his “mandate was and remains to protect secrecy, the Liberal Party and [Justin Trudeau].”
NDP Leader Singh also reacted to the announcement on Twitter, saying he was “deeply disappointed” in Johnston’s report.
“Nothing short of an independent public inquiry on foreign interference is good enough,” Singh wrote, adding, “We'll be taking these concerns directly to the PM and use all our tools in Parliament to get answers for Canadians.”


Disappointment with Johnston’s decision was also expressed by other officials and community leaders.
Mehmet Tohti, executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, wrote on Twitter on May 23 that “Johnston’s rejection of public inquiry is stunning and absolutely, shockingly disappointing.”

He added, “It doesn’t serve the core interest of our national security and rather it only provided baseline for an approval of China’s narrative.”

On the same day, Senator Denise Batters wrote on Twitter that “it is stunning that the words TrudeauFoundation are entirely absent from the 59-page report by Trudeau’s SpecialRapporteur David Johnston (a recent Trudeau Foundation member)." 

Batters retweeted a comment by Globe and Mail senior parliamentary reporter Steven Chase.

“David Johnston’s report inexplicably addresses only 3 Globe stories on Chinese foreign interference in recent months that relied on secret CSIS documents and national security sources. He is silent on 10 other Globe stories on the same topic that rely on secret sources/documents,” Chase wrote on Twitter on May 23.

Later the same day, Trudeau defended both his appointment of Johnston as special rapporteur and the former governor general’s decision not to call on the Liberal government to hold a public inquiry on election interference.

Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa that Johnston’s decision was informed by “thousands of pages of classified and unclassified documents” on matters of foreign interference.

“While preparing his report, Mr. Johnston was given complete access to all and any relevant records and documents from across government,” Trudeau said.

The prime minister added that letters have been sent to all opposition leaders offering them security clearances so that they can review the relevant intelligence documents privately.

“I think everyone can agree with the former governor general’s assessment that all leaders must work from a common understanding of true facts,” Trudeau said.

Noé Chartier contributed to this report.