Trudeau Appoints Former GG Johnston as Special Rapporteur on Foreign Interference

Trudeau Appoints Former GG Johnston as Special Rapporteur on Foreign Interference
Then Governor General David Johnston and Prime Minister Stephen Harper take part in a Royal Assent ceremony in the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill on Dec. 15, 2010.(Reuters/Blair Gable)
Noé Chartier

Former governor general David Johnston will serve as the Liberal government’s “independent special rapporteur” on foreign interference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on March 15.

“As Independent Special Rapporteur, David Johnston brings integrity and a wealth of experience and skills, and I am confident that he will conduct an impartial review to ensure all necessary steps are being taken to keep our democracy safe and uphold and strengthen confidence in it,” Trudeau said in a statement.

Johnston is tasked with evaluating the impact of foreign interference in the last two federal elections. Trudeau said a mandate for Johnston’s role will be finalized and made public.

The government says it will follow the rapporteur’s recommendations, which could include calling for a public inquiry or a judicial review.

Opposition parties have not been favourable to the Liberals’ decision to appoint a rapporteur instead of holding a public inquiry.

The scrutiny into foreign interference in elections comes amid recent reporting based on leaked intelligence on China’s extensive influence operations in Canada.

Harper Appointee

Johnston was appointed as governor general by then-prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010 and served in the role until 2017.

In 2007, Harper tapped Johnston to serve as a special adviser to draft the terms of reference for a public inquiry into the business dealings of former prime minister Brian Mulroney and German-Canadian businessman Karlheinz Schreiber.

At the end of his term as governor general in 2017, as he was replaced by former astronaut Julie Payette, Trudeau called Johnston a “family friend.”

Johnston will be stepping down from his role as head of the Leaders’ Debates Commission, which organizes debates during federal elections.

Johnston is also a member of the Trudeau Foundation, which provides scholarship and mentorship programs. Trudeau has said he has no ties to the foundation, which was set up in his father’s name. 


Johnston has law degrees from the University of Cambridge and Queen’s University.

Prior to being appointed as governor general, he was president of the University of Waterloo (UW).

During his term as the head of the university, Johnston signed an agreement in 2006 with a Chinese government agency to establish a Confucius Institute at the UW-affiliated Renison University College.
An academic essay published by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) states that Confucius Institutes pose a risk to host universities given their “political mission and links with the Chinese Party-state are not compatible with the principle of independence from political interference that is important for independent academic activity to flourish.”

The essay is drawn from a 2013 CSIS conference held under the Chatham House Rule, which means the author is not identified.

The Canadian Press contributed to this report.