Johnston Plans to Keep Role as Special Rapporteur Despite Commons Vote Calling for Him to Step Down

Johnston Plans to Keep Role as Special Rapporteur Despite Commons Vote Calling for Him to Step Down
David Johnston, special rapporteur on foreign interference, presents his first report in Ottawa on May 23, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Isaac Teo
David Johnston says his mandate to probe foreign interference comes from the federal government and not the House of Commons, after MPs voted in favour of a motion on May 31 to have him step down as special rapporteur.
“I deeply respect the right of the House of Commons to express its opinion about my work going forward, but my mandate comes from the government. I have a duty to pursue that work until my mandate is completed,” said the former governor general in a statement released following the vote.
The motion, which was introduced by NDP MP Jenny Kwan the previous day, called on Johnston to “step aside from his role.” It also requested the Trudeau government to “urgently establish a public commission of inquiry.”

The Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois, and NDP voted in favour of the motion. It passed by a vote of 174 to 150, with the Liberals and Independent MP Han Dong voting against it.

In March, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Johnston to look into allegations that Beijing tried meddling in the past two federal elections.

Kwan’s motion raised concerns over Johnston’s recommendations last week against holding a public inquiry into Chinese interference in Canada—a move all opposition parties have rejected.

“Serious questions have been raised about the special rapporteur process, the counsel he retained in support of this work, his findings, and his conclusions,” the motion said.

Johnston had said in his report that due to the sensitive nature of national security and the intelligence he studied, there would be no way to divulge the information Canadians are seeking publicly.

“When I accepted the mandate to act as independent special rapporteur, I did so with full knowledge of the fact that the work ahead would be neither straightforward nor uncontroversial,” he said in his statement.

While Johnston acknowledged that foreign governments “undoubtedly” attempt to meddle in Canadian politics, he reiterated “the serious shortcomings” in the way intelligence was communicated and processed from security agencies through to the government.

“[T]here is much work yet to be done and a further public process is required to identify specific reforms that are necessary to preserve the integrity of our democratic institutions,” he added.

Earlier Wednesday, Trudeau said he maintained confidence in Johnston, despite the stance of opposition MPs.

Opposition parties have decried his appointment because of Johnston’s family connections to the prime minister’s family and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

Johnston said his mandate is “only one part of the array of work.”

“I welcome the contribution of others, including and especially the parliamentary committees as well as NSICOP [National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians] and NSIRA [Intelligence Review Agency]—all of which are already charged with investigating these matters.”

The Canadian Press contributed to this report.