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A former top adviser to the prime minister said Thursday that a memo warning about Beijing’s alleged targeting of Conservative MP Michael Chong was produced after he retired – but he was aware of issues in the way intelligence is handled.

Vincent Rigby continues to call for a full review of Canada’s national-security system to respond to ongoing concerns over how authorities are dealing with foreign interference.

He made the comments at a meeting of a parliamentary committee investigating allegations that MPs were targeted by foreign interference.

His testimony comes after the release of watchdog David Johnston’s first report, which found there are serious issues with the way the government handles confidential information.

John Ibbitson: David Johnston’s report on foreign interference will keep the issue front and centre

Former public safety minister Bill Blair, who is now the minister of emergency preparedness, blamed the Canadian Security Intelligence Service last week for the fact he did not receive the July 2021 classified memo about Chong.

“The director determined this was not information the minister needed to know,” Blair said.

David Vigneault, the head of CSIS, is scheduled to appear before the committee next Tuesday.

David Johnston: My work to protect Canada’s democracy from foreign interference is not done

Rigby said that during his tenure, he was concerned about intelligence being appropriately followed up on, but he said he couldn’t speak to what specifically happened with Blair’s office or the memo.

“The July 2021 report and the targeting of Mr. Chong and other individual MPs was produced and distributed after my departure. But I am not surprised this intelligence was not raised to the political level,” he said.

“This is where the system is particularly weak.”

Current adviser Jody Thomas said last week that the memo was provided to her interim predecessor David Morrison in August 2021.

Morrison is now the deputy minister of Global Affairs Canada. A statement from that department said he had been on medical leave between mid-July and early August of 2021.

“Mr. Morrison does not recall having received any written material regarding threats to MPs during his time as (national security and intelligence adviser). He also does not recall any oral briefings or discussions on the issue.”

The Privy Council Office said that Mike MacDonald replaced Morrison, who is currently an assistant secretary to the cabinet for security and intelligence, temporarily replaced Morrison between July 16 and Aug. 3, 2021.

“While the NSIA’s office regularly receives intelligence and information from security partners, Mr. MacDonald does not recall having seen any material regarding threats to MPs during this time,” its statement said. “As a result, no material describing any such threats was briefed to (the Prime Minister’s Office).”

Morrison is also expected to appear before the committee next week.

Johnston’s initial report found that CSIS was aware of indications Chinese officials were contemplating action directed at Canadian MPs, but did not identify negligence at the highest political levels.

His report said intelligence about Chinese officials seeking information on Chong didn’t reach the prime minister, the public safety minister or Chong himself until after it was leaked and reported by media.

The report also confirmed that CSIS sent information about the targeting of Chong to Blair and his chief of staff via a top-secret email platform, but they never received it. The public service told Johnston they don’t have access to the right system, according to his report.

Blair told the committee that when CSIS did want to share information with him, he was brought to a secure facility and briefed with printed materials.

Rigby said he couldn’t speak to the specific details of Blair’s account and Johnston’s report.

“I’m not aware how Minister Blair organized his office,” he said.

“I honestly can’t speak to the details because I’m not aware. That’d be a question you’d have to ask the CSIS director or somebody in the minister’s office.”

Rigby said that during his tenure, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau got a weekly intelligence briefing summarizing daily reports prepared by the Privy Council Office.

During his own appearance at committee this week, Johnston said foreign interference attempts have been increasing in Canada, and the government’s ability to adapt isn’t keeping up.

The former governor general is expected to hold public hearings beginning next month towards a final report at the end of October.

Last week, the House of Commons passed a non-binding motion calling on Johnston to step down, in part due to perceptions that he is biased because he had a friendship with the prime minister’s father.

The motion also called on the government to call a public inquiry into foreign interference, after Johnston recommended against one because he said most of the information the government holds about alleged foreign meddling would need to remain classified.

Opposition parties are not disputing the results of the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

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