House Passes Motion Calling on Johnston to Step Down as Special Rapporteur

House Passes Motion Calling on Johnston to Step Down as Special Rapporteur
David Johnston, Independent Special Rapporteur on Foreign Interference, presents his first report in Ottawa on May 23, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)
Peter Wilson

Opposition parties have all voted in favour of an NDP motion calling on David Johnston to immediately step down from his current role as special rapporteur on foreign election interference.

The Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois, and NDP voted in favour of the non-binding motion in the House on May 31—introduced by NDP MP Jenny Kwan the day prior—calling on Johnston to "step aside" from the role and requesting the government "urgently establish a public commission of inquiry."
The motion passed by a vote of 174 to 150, with the Liberals and Independent MP Han Dong voting against it.
Kwan's motion said Johnston should step down due to concerns over "the special rapporteur process, the counsel he retained in support of this work, his findings, and his conclusions." The motion's reference to Johnston's 'counsel' was of Johnston’s key advisor, Sheila Block, who reportedly made a total of over $7,500 in previous donations to the Liberal Party of Canada.

In addition to demanding a public inquiry, Kwan's motion also called for any potential such commission established by the government to be led by an "individual selected with unanimous support from all recognized parties in the House" who would be "granted the power to review all aspects of foreign interference from all states, including, but not limited to, the Chinese, Indian, Iranian and Russian governments."

Should an inquiry commission be established, the motion also requested that  it present its report and any recommendations "in advance of the next dissolution of Parliament or, at the latest, at the fixed election date as set by Elections Canada."

Lastly, the motion called on the Liberal government to instruct the Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to provide the House with a report as quickly as possible recommending who should lead the requested public inquiry and what its terms of reference should include.
In his May 23 report, Johnston recommended against the government establishing a public inquiry into foreign interference allegations due to the confidential nature of intelligence information that would need to be presented.

Johnston instead recommended that the government call for a number of public hearings to address the possible interference actions.

The former governor general's recommendations received heavy criticism from opposition parties, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated several times that Johnston has been impartial as special rapporteur.