Amid increased pressure for a public inquiry, the Liberal government will appoint an independent special rapporteur to look into foreign interference in Canadian elections, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on March 6.
Trudeau listed the measures taken by his government to counter foreign interference in elections during a press conference in Ottawa, but said his government will also be appointing an “eminent Canadian” as an “independent special rapporteur” on the issue, as he said he knows some will say the existing measures aren’t enough.
The selection of the rapporteur will be by the government rather than Parliament, but the prime minister said he’s open to listening to recommendations from other parties on the appointment.
Trudeau also said that the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), a parliamentary committee that reports to the prime minister, as well as the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA), will be reviewing the issues related to election interference.
Opposition parties have called for a public inquiry into election integrity amid reports of widespread election interference by Beijing, with a commissioner appointed by Parliament.
Calling the debate around the issue of holding a public inquiry partisan, Trudeau said the rapporteur’s first task will be to recommend what process is next required, such as a formal inquiry or another type of review process.
Trudeau said this could take the same format as the Public Order Emergency Commission overseen by Justice Paul Rouleau if the rapporteur elects to do so.
“But given the limits and shortcomings of that process, perhaps he will choose another way to reassure Canadians about foreign interference,” he said in French.
Rouleau’s report released last month on Trudeau’s invocation of the Emergencies Act to deal with protesters last winter said the government had met the threshold.
Along with deciding on next steps, the rapporteur is to also inform the work of NSICOP and NSIRA, and review processes such as that of Elections Canada.
Trudeau said NSICOP, a parliamentary committee that reviews matters of national security and intelligence, will be reviewing interference attempts in the 2019 and 2021 elections. The committee, which includes MPs from multiple parties as well as one senator, reports to the prime minister.
Other MeasuresTrudeau, who was flanked by several ministers during the press conference, also announced other measures around the issue of foreign interference.
He said he has tasked Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino with launching consultations on the creation of a foreign agent registry, but didn’t provide a timeline.
This should be done in conjunction with “protecting communities who are often both targeted by attempts at foreign interference and who feel targeted when xenophobia and fear mongering overtake legitimate concern for our democracy and national security,” Trudeau said.
Recent articles by Global News and the Globe and Mail citing intelligence leaks and national security sources have reported about other forms of interference in Canada’s federal elections in 2019 and 2021 by the Chinese communist regime.
When asked about why it took so long for the government to start consultations on a registry, Trudeau acknowledged that it’s something that has “long been discussed” and that lessons would be drawn from the work done on the matter by U.S. and Australian allies.
The prime minister also said he tasked Mendicino with creating a coordination bureau on foreign interference within his department.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who has called for a public inquiry, called the latest moves a “coverup.”
“A so-called ‘special rapporteur’ hand-picked by the Prime Minister is not the same as a true independent inquiry, with the full legal powers granted by the Inquiries Act—including compelling the testimony and the production of documents,” he said in a statement.
Interference ReportsA Nov. 7, 2022, report by Global News citing leaked intelligence documents said that Trudeau was briefed in January 2022 on a Beijing-directed election interference network. The report said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had funded at least 11 federal candidates in the 2019 election.
The report also said that several candidates in that year’s election met with officials from the United Front Work Department, according to the article. The United Front is “a primary foreign interference tool” for Beijing, says a post by Public Safety Canada citing research by think tanks.
The article also said that an election-campaign staff member for a 2019 federal election candidate was directed by the Chinese Consulate in Toronto to control and monitor the candidates’ meetings and prevent such engagements as meetings with representatives of Taiwan.
Another report by the Globe and Mail on Feb. 17 said that according to intelligence sources and leaked intelligence, Chinese officials had been saying that their desired outcome for Canada’s 2021 election was a minority Liberal government. According to the article, the CCP deemed the Liberal Party most favourable to its interests, but still wanted the government to remain a minority so that its power would be kept in check.
The article also said that a Chinese diplomat expressed displeasure over the Liberals having become more critical of China in recent times, but said they were still preferable compared to the alternatives.
The Globe article said Beijing instructed its diplomats and other proxies—including some Chinese-language media—to propagate the idea that Conservative MPs were too critical of China and would be working against the interests of the people in the Chinese community.