Johnston's Proposal on Hearings Shows Lack of Understanding of Targeted Chinese Groups, MPs Hear

Johnston's Proposal on Hearings Shows Lack of Understanding of Targeted Chinese Groups, MPs Hear
David Johnston, Independent Special Rapporteur on Foreign Interference, presents his first report in Ottawa on May 23, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)
Noé Chartier

Special Rapporteur David Johnston’s intent to hold public hearings with the diaspora on the issue of foreign interference shows a lack of understanding of the targeted communities, a China expert told a House of Commons committee on May 30.

“He's not got a deep China experience, or a deep security experience to bring to it. He looked at it for two months, and in that two months he concluded that there should be public hearings of the diaspora,” said Margaret McCuaig-Johnston.

“So he doesn't understand the diaspora would never want that. And so that suggests that he doesn't have that understanding of what's happening, the dynamic that's happening in the communities out there of Chinese Canadians.”

McCuaig-Johnston, a China expert and senior fellow at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs of the University of Ottawa, was testifying before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC).

The committee has been studying foreign interference since November and has recently been given the mandate by the House to investigate the targeting of MPs by the Chinese regime.

In dismissing the need or feasibility of holding a public inquiry over security concerns, Johnston’s report says he would instead hold public hearings with Canadians, “especially from diaspora communities,” on how the government can improve its fight against foreign interference.

“The Uyghurs, Tibetans, Falun Gong, pro-democracy Hong Kongers, and human rights activists would be more targeted if they spoke in public hearings,” said McCuaig-Johnston.

She added those groups’ views are already well known and they have long called for stronger investigative powers against the threat and the need for a foreign agent registry but without success.

The federal government launched consultations on establishing a registry in recent weeks after mounting pressure due to multiple national security leaks in the press depicting widespread interference by Beijing.

'Government Inaction'

Mehmet Tohti, executive director for the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, told The Epoch Time he agrees with McCuaig-Johnston. He says the government already knows very well the concerns of communities targeted by the Chinese regime.

About the public hearings, Tohti says there’s nothing left that hasn’t been said and there’s “no point for repeating the information again and again.”

He also said Johnston should have consulted with the targeted communities before making a recommendation against holding a public inquiry, adding that his report “vindicated government inaction” on foreign interference.

McCuaig-Johnston, a former assistant deputy minister in the federal government, also criticized aspects of Johnston’s report tabled on May 23 and his recommendation not to hold a public inquiry.

She said she initially publicly supported his March 15 appointment as special rapporteur.

“I thought that, among all Canadians, he would be one of the most concerned about the threats to our democracy posed by China,” McCuaig-Johnston said.

“I was therefore extremely surprised and disappointed with his dismissal of an independent public inquiry.”

Opposition parties in the House of Commons unanimously voted in favour of an NDP motion on May 31 calling for Johnston to step down from his role of rapporteur, with the motion being adopted with a majority in the House of Commons.

The motion is non-binding but it signals to the Liberal government and Johnston that a majority of elected representatives do not support going forward with the current arrangement. The government ignored a previous motion calling for holding a public inquiry on foreign interference and instead appointed Johnston as rapporteur.