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David Johnston, Independent Special Rapporteur on Foreign Interference, presents his first report in Ottawa, on May 23.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

David Johnston, Independent Special Rapporteur on Foreign Interference, is the former Governor-General of Canada.

Foreign governments are working in hostile and clandestine ways to undermine Canada’s democratic institutions and attempting to influence the outcomes of our elections. All Canadians should be concerned about this growing and pernicious threat.

Over the past two months, in my role as the Independent Special Rapporteur on Foreign Interference, I have conducted an intensive review of top-secret documents and interviewed political leaders and public servants to get to the bottom of recent allegations of foreign interference in our democratic process by the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Our conclusion was that measures put in place by successive governments have so far allowed us to counter those threats and minimize their impact on our democracy. But we also revealed serious shortcomings in the way in which intelligence is distributed within the federal government. These numerous failures in communication, accountability and diligence have led to unacceptable outcomes, including a failure to inform a member of Parliament that the PRC was looking for information on their family in Hong Kong.

My conclusions have been the subject of much debate since I presented my report on Tuesday, in part because the evidence I reviewed is classified as top secret and cannot be made public. That is why I have invited two statutory oversight bodies with the necessary security clearance – one made up of parliamentarians and the other of national security experts – as well as the leaders of the major federal parties to review my work and publicly report to Canadians about their findings.

While my first report focused on the recent past, the next phase of my work involves looking to the future. How can we better protect Canada’s democracy from foreign interference? The Government of Canada must act swiftly to address the shortcomings and gaps I have identified to strengthen our ability to detect, deter and combat the ever-evolving threat of foreign interference.

Before the end of my mandate in October, I will conduct public hearings with the public, government officials and experts. I will focus particularly on those from affected diaspora communities who are frequently the targets of foreign interference.

Canadians rightfully expect accountability from their government for the many legitimate questions which have been raised in recent months. During these public hearings, Canadians will have an opportunity to hear directly from government and intelligence officials about how they are working to fight foreign interference.

Through this public process, I will work to identify actions to address the governance and organizational gaps in Canada’s national security infrastructure, and will pull no punches. I intend to propose recommendations to the government to ensure hostile governments, like the PRC, cannot compromise our democratic integrity.

As my report indicates, there are many issues to review. What are the unique impacts of foreign interference on diaspora communities? Do we need a more transparent process, and what role does declassification play? What is the appropriate relationship between intelligence and law enforcement? How can security agencies co-ordinate better among themselves and the government so we are no longer playing catch-up? How can we improve intelligence tracking protocols to know exactly who saw what, and when? What must be done to adequately protect Canadians from nefarious interference attempts? How should we deal with threats against elected officials?

When that process is complete, I will make recommendations. It will then fall to Canadians to assess them and hold elected officials accountable for their decisions about what to implement.

Public service to Canada has been my life’s work, and I have never undertaken a mandate more important than this one. While I identified serious shortcomings in the way we respond to foreign interference, the work is not done. And I will not be dissuaded from completing it. That is the job I undertook, and I feel obligated to complete it to the highest possible standard. Then I will leave it to Canadians to judge this contribution to safeguarding our democracy.

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