Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has initiated two closed-door probes into Chinese election interference that will be reviewed by a special rapporteur after facing growing calls to investigate Beijing’s influence activities.
Mr. Trudeau called a late afternoon news conference to announce that the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), which reports directly to his office, will study China’s interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections.
He also said the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA), which oversees the RCMP and federal spy agencies, will examine how investigations into Chinese election meddling have been handled.
Opposition parties were highly critical of the Prime Minister’s announcement, saying the probes would be secretive and fall far short of a much-needed public inquiry.
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Mr. Trudeau said he would name the special rapporteur in the coming days. A special rapporteur is considered to be an eminent and impartial individual who, in this case, will review the reports from the two organizations and make recommendations.
The Prime Minister said he would accept those judgments, even if they include a call for a public inquiry.
“The independent special rapporteur will have a wide mandate to make expert recommendations on protecting and enhancing Canadians’ faith in our democracy,” Mr. Trudeau said. “The independent rapporteur will make public recommendations that could include a public inquiry or some other independent review process.”
Mr. Trudeau said he spoke to the heads of both security panels to “underscore that Canadians need to have faith in their institutions and deserve answers and transparency,” and asked them to begin “urgent work on foreign interference within their mandates.” Liberal MP David McGuinty heads NSICOP and former Supreme Court of Canada justice Marie Deschamps is chair of NSIRA.
NSICOP is an entity that is not a committee of Parliament, although it includes MPs from all major parties and several senators. Its reports are sent to the Prime Minister’s Office, which has the ability to redact information for national-security reasons. The committee, which meets in secret, has examined foreign interference in past reports, which experts say have been largely ignored by the government. NSIRA also meets in secret and releases an annual report to Parliament.
But Mr. Trudeau said NSICOP already has top-secret clearance and can see all classified information on the past two federal elections.
“When democratic institutions are under attack, it is just that it be parliamentarians, elected officials who should be stepping up to protect institutions,” he said.
The government has faced an onslaught of criticism over its handling of Chinese interference since The Globe and Mail reported Feb. 17, based on Canadian Security Intelligence Service documents, that China employed a sophisticated strategy to disrupt Canada’s democracy in the 2021 election campaign.
Highly classified documents, seen by The Globe and Global News, also outlined how China tried to elect 11 candidates – nine Liberals and two Conservatives – in the 2019 election.
Mr. Trudeau has asked CSIS to find the whistle-blowers, and the RCMP announced Monday that an investigation is now under way into the leaks. The RCMP is not investigating China’s interference operations, which include allegations of illegal violations of Canada’s election laws, citing a lack of evidence that would stand up in court.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday he will appoint a new independent watchdog to oversee two closed-door investigations into Chinese election interference. He says the Canadian government is taking allegations of interference in the last two federal elections seriously, and emphasizes that it should not be a partisan issue.
The Canadian Press
Mr. Trudeau also reiterated his government’s pledge, first made two years ago, to consult Canadians on establishing a foreign-agent registry to shed light on Canadian citizens paid to influence Canada’s political process on behalf of countries such as China and Russia. As well, the government will set up a foreign-interference office within the Department of Public Safety.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre criticized having NSICOP investigate China’s interference operations because its findings are sent to the Prime Minister for review and information can be redacted.
“This is a secret committee, with secret hearings, secret evidence and secret conclusions – all controlled by the Prime Minister,” he said in statement on Monday. “It will have neither the openness nor the independence to give Canadians the truth about Beijing’s interference in our politics and government.”
He also discounted the appointment of a special rapporteur “hand-picked” by the Prime Minister rather than a “true independent inquiry, with the full legal powers” to compel testimony and obtain all unredacted documents.
NDP House Leader Peter Julian said in a statement that the Prime Minister’s announcement falls short of what is needed, citing the fact that NSICOP holds its meetings in secret.
“Alleged foreign interference in Canada’s democracy is incredibly serious, and deserves an independent, non-partisan public inquiry,” Mr. Julian said. “The NDP does not believe NSICOP is an acceptable substitute for a public inquiry. That committee is partisan, and takes place behind closed doors.”
The Prime Minister has acknowledged the existence of Chinese interference in Canada’s democracy but insists that the outcome of the 2019 and 2021 elections were decided freely and fairly by Canadians.
As the House of Commons resumed sitting from a two-week break, the three main opposition parties pushed the government to create a public inquiry, which Mr. Trudeau has resisted.
“The Communist dictatorship in Beijing has been helping the Prime Minister. They gave $200,000 in donations to the Trudeau Foundation. They interfered in two successive elections to help the Liberals win and the Prime Minister knew about it,” Mr. Poilievre told the House. “He has done absolutely nothing to stop it because he benefits from it.”
The Globe has reported that a Chinese billionaire had pledged $200,000 in 2016 to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. He actually only provided $140,000. The foundation said it returned that money last week after a Globe report that the pledge was part of a Chinese-directed influence operation targeting the current Prime Minister.
Mr. Julian told the House that “Canadians are troubled by foreign interference in our elections but the Prime Minister doesn’t seem concerned at all.” He noted that the Commons committee procedure and House affairs, former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley and Richard Fadden, former CSIS director and national-security adviser to Mr. Trudeau, have all called for an independent inquiry.
Secret and top-secret documents viewed by The Globe show that Chinese diplomats and their proxies backed the 2021 re-election of Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals – but only to another minority government – and worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered to be unfriendly to Beijing.
The CSIS documents, laid out in the Globe report, outline how China spread falsehoods on social media and provided undeclared cash donations in the 2021 election. The documents also outline how Beijing directed Chinese students studying in Canada to work as campaign volunteers, and illegally returned portions of donations so donors were not out of pocket after claiming a tax receipt.
The government has also been facing calls from opposition parties and other critics of the Chinese government, including the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China, to set up a foreign-agent registry.
The United States and Australia have public registries that require people advocating for a foreign state to register their activities, under penalty of fines or jail time.
The Australian registry includes not only lobbying government but also communication campaigns and disbursement of money or other items of value.
The U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act is much older and requires “agents of foreign principals who are engaged in political activities” to disclose their actions.
Britain recently introduced legislation to create the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme as a means of compelling people acting for foreign interests to declare political-influence activity or face criminal penalties.