Patricia Adams is an economist and executive director of China watchdog Probe International. Bruce Pardy is executive director of the legal watchdog Rights Probe and professor of law at Queen’s University.
In the classic British political satire Yes, Prime Minister, bureaucrat Sir Humphrey Appleby lectures the Prime Minister’s Private Secretary, Bernard Woolley, on defence policy.
“What is the purpose of our defence policy?” Sir Humphrey quizzes him. “To defend Britain,” Mr. Woolley suggests. “No Bernard,” Sir Humphrey corrects him in exasperation, “It is to make people believe Britain is defended.” Mr. Woolley asks, “The Russians?” Sir Humphrey snorts, “Not the Russians, the British! The Russians know it’s not.”
Justin Trudeau gets it. Since being elected Prime Minister in 2015, Mr. Trudeau has created a plethora of “independent” national security agencies and offices that are neither independent nor effective at protecting national security. Their purpose is to make Canadians believe the nation is secure. The Chinese certainly know it is not.
David Johnston gets it, too. Mr. Johnston, Trudeau’s special rapporteur on foreign interference, submitted his first report on Tuesday. Everything is fine, he said, the nation is secure. “The elections of 2019 and 2021 were well protected by sophisticated mechanisms, and there is no basis to lack confidence in their results,” he wrote, refuting media reports that Mr. Trudeau ignored intelligence briefings on Chinese election interference. Mr. Johnston concluded that a public inquiry on foreign interference was not merely unnecessary but could not even be contemplated because classified information cannot be publicly revealed. It’s a classic Catch-22: If the information is important, it must be classified. But if it’s classified, it cannot be discussed. Mr. Trudeau could not ask for a better hiding spot.
Mr. Johnston wasn’t done. In a flourish of apparent transparency, he recommended that two of Mr. Trudeau’s security bodies, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) and the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) review his conclusions.
NSICOP is not a parliamentary committee answerable to Parliament, but an all-party “committee of parliamentarians” appointed by cabinet on Mr. Trudeau’s recommendation. But there’s a catch. Under the Security of Information Act, its members are bound to secrecy for life. If you’re cleared to see the information, you can’t talk about it. And if you’re free to talk about it, you can’t see it. For good measure, Mr. Trudeau can redact NSICOP’s reports.
NSIRA is a body hand-picked by Mr. Trudeau, also sworn to secrecy, that provides him with reports to submit to Parliament. But first, deputy ministers must redact anything “injurious to national security,” which can mean whatever Mr. Trudeau wants it to mean.
A guide to foreign interference and China’s suspected influence in Canada
It’s all consistent with the Liberal script. On May 11, for instance, at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on foreign election interference, Liberal MP Ryan Turnbull rattled off a list of eight measures that purport to show the government protected elections from foreign interference.
“Can you name eight from the Harper era?” he badgered witness Jenni Byrne, Stephen Harper’s former deputy chief of staff. Ms. Byrne responded, “Regardless of the eight things that you have named, we are still sitting here with the fact that for the last two elections knowingly your government ignored advice from officials” about foreign interference. Mr. Turnbull pressed on, “Can you name four things? … How about just two things?”
There are certainly lots of these “things,” including an intelligence commissioner who reports to Mr. Trudeau; a Communications Security Establishment whose chief advises, secretly, Mr. Trudeau’s Defence Minister; and a Critical Election Incident Public Protocol process administered by a panel of top civil servants who report to Mr. Trudeau.
We could go on, but you get the idea. The countries of the West are teeming with Chinese spies, and Canada is no exception. But other countries have done something about it. In 2018, Australia passed the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme, which created a registry for persons and entities acting on behalf of foreigners. The U.S. started to crack down on China in 2018; the U.K. in 2022. Virtually the whole of the Western world now recognizes China as a malign actor, rather than a benign emerging economy.
The Trudeau government stands out. Instead of taking decisive actions to counter foreign interference, it has proliferated an alphabet soup of national security bodies that bar evidence of foreign election interference from public view and Parliament, preventing the government from being held to account.
The purpose of Mr. Trudeau’s expansive collection of national security bodies, including the special rapporteur, is to persuade Canadians their elections are secure. They will keep the Prime Minister secure from their scrutiny. Sir Humphrey would be impressed.