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A note from David Walmsley, Editor-in-Chief of The Globe and Mail

Revelations from the author of this opinion piece formed the backbone of our news stories that there is foreign interference in our political system at all levels of government and across Canada. The facts in those stories, which are just part of our in-depth and years-long reporting on the issue, are uncontroverted.

However, the individual faces possible prosecution for revealing classified documents.

This is a rare moment in which we have granted confidentiality to an Opinion writer. We recognize conferring confidentiality demands a great degree of trust on the part of the reader. We believe that publishing this piece strikes a balance between providing readers with more insight into our work, and our responsibility to protect the individual’s identity, in the tradition of shielding sources when it is in the public interest, as set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 2010 ruling of Globe and Mail v. Canada.

The following opinion piece is written by a national security official.

When I joined the public service many years ago, I swore an oath.

Not to party or to person, but to my country, to its democratic institutions and to my fellow Canadians.

When I first became aware of the significance of the threat posed by outside interference to our democratic institutions, I worked – as have many unnamed and tireless colleagues – to equip our leaders with the knowledge and the tools needed to take action against it.

Months passed, and then years. The threat grew in urgency; serious action remained unforthcoming. I endeavored, alone and with others, to raise concerns about this threat directly to those in a position to hold our top officials to account. Regrettably, those individuals were unable to do so.

In the time that passed, another federal election had come and gone, the threat of interference had grown, and it had become increasingly clear that no serious action was being considered. Worse still, evidence of senior public officials ignoring interference was beginning to mount.

Despite these concerns, the decision to discuss this threat with Canadian journalists was not an easy one. In this line of work, the question of whether or not to blow the whistle rarely arrives unaccompanied by other ones. I asked myself: Can I do this while mitigating the risk to our country’s sources and methods? Will this mean the end of my career? Who will take care of my family if I go to prison?

For me, the answer to these questions was found in weighing them against the public interest.

I hold no personal complaint against our political leaders, against our national security community or against the Liberal Party. Indeed, I have voted for the latter in past elections and hope to be able to do so again one day. Neither was my decision taken out of any special animus toward the government of the People’s Republic of China, despite its driving involvement in these affairs.

Instead, I hoped that by providing the public with information I believe to be in the interest of all Canadians, we as a country would begin a much deeper conversation about what it is that we expect of our government. I hoped that we could launch a conversation about how to improve transparency, how to enhance accountability, how to protect all members of our society against external threats, and ultimately, about how we continue to pursue a system of governance that best serves all of its citizens.

While I still believe that conversation to be necessary, it has unfortunately become marked by ugliness and division.

So let me be clear: as troubling as the revelations we have seen are, I do not believe that foreign interference dictated the present composition of our federal government. Nor do I believe that any of our elected leaders is a traitor to our country. Nonetheless, the growing impact of foreign interference on our ability to enjoy a free and fair political process is undeniable.

Will these revelations give some Canadians cause to question the integrity of our democratic institutions and processes? Yes, they well might. But preserving the alternative – that Canadians remain unaware of the risks to those institutions – would be to deprive them of the ability to participate in our democratic processes with meaningful agency. Moreover, it would be to brush aside the experiences of many Canadian members of diaspora communities who have long been unable to express their political voices freely and unfettered by the threat of foreign intervention or reprisal. Indeed, I urge you to listen to those courageous Canadians who are willing and able to share their experiences in this regard.

With that said, we must all recognize that this is not a partisan issue. Nor is this a China issue. Your fellow progressive Canadians, your fellow conservative Canadians, and your fellow Chinese Canadians are all just that: Canadians. In having this conversation, we must resist the reflex to reduce the challenge that faces us to one of us versus them. We must recognize that protecting our civic values should not, need not and cannot come at the cost of abandoning our commitment to diversity and multiculturalism. We must come together as a national community and ask ourselves how we can do better – this time, the next time, and all the times that follow.

On the question of what happens next for me, I have little to say but this: if and when the time comes, I will take my lumps for my part in this. I will do so without resentment or regret, knowing that while what I have done may be unlawful, I cannot say that it was wrong.

I say this because I was raised to believe that integrity is the act of weighing your actions against your principles, not against what is convenient or expedient. And here my principles remain firmly tied to those words in my oath: I will serve my country, I will serve the democratic institutions on which it is founded and I will most certainly serve my fellow Canadians.

I am not the first in our public service to have grappled with such an unenviable ethical dilemma in recent years. Not so long ago, our former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould faced one that was even more acute, given what she stood to lose.

I worry, however, that we may be running short on individuals willing and able to risk the consequences of standing by their principles. So to my fellow Canadians: If you can, please work together to ensure that we are among the last public servants that will ever feel compelled to take that risk.

China and Canadian elections: More from The Globe and Mail

The Decibel podcast

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has ordered two probes of Chinese interference in Canadian elections. How transparent and public will they be? Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife explains. Subscribe for more episodes.


In depth

A timeline of China’s alleged interference in recent Canadian elections

China’s Vancouver consulate interfered in 2022 municipal election, according to CSIS

Canada rejected a visa for Chinese diplomat on foreign-interference grounds


Commentary

Ai-Men Lau: To really tackle Beijing’s interference, Canada must engage with the Chinese diaspora

Kelly Cryderman: We should be paying attention to foreign interference in our provincial elections

Jean-Pierre Kingsley: Doubt has been sown in Canada’s democracy. This cannot stand