Former governor-general David Johnston will be given broad powers to investigate foreign interference in Canada’s elections in his role as special rapporteur, including having no limits on the documents he can examine or who he can interview.
Mr. Johnston will be empowered to “review any classified or unclassified records and documents,” including records protected by cabinet confidence, the government said in a statement on Thursday.
Ottawa said his mandate is to assess “the extent and impact of foreign interference in Canada’s electoral processes,” and to review the federal government’s response to the threat of interference in the past two general elections, as well as historically.
The open-ended mandate for Mr. Johnston follows Globe and Mail reporting on Chinese government meddling in this country’s elections.
Mr. Johnston was selected last month by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to probe the effect of foreign interference in Canada’s electoral processes.
His inquiry is one of three probes Mr. Trudeau launched into Chinese election interference in response to criticism over Ottawa’s handling of the issue. The Globe reported in February, based on Canadian Security Intelligence Service documents, that China employed a sophisticated strategy to disrupt Canada’s democracy in the 2021 election campaign. CSIS documents also explain how Beijing tried to interfere in the 2019 election.
All three major opposition parties have said they still want an independent public inquiry, with the Conservatives questioning the independence of Mr. Johnston, a family friend of the Trudeaus.
Mr. Johnston’s first report is due by May 23, the government said Thursday, and will address whether the former governor-general believes a public inquiry is necessary. The government said Mr. Johnston would issue other reports on a rolling basis until late October.
The government did not divulge the special rapporteur’s exact pay but said it will be “within the range” of $1,400 to $1,600 a day. He will also be reimbursed for any expenses.
The all-party National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), chaired by Liberal MP David McGuinty, is also investigating foreign interference in elections. At the same time, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA), chaired by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Marie Deschamps, is examining how investigations into Chinese election meddling have been handled by national-security agencies.
NSICOP draws members from the House of Commons and the Senate. 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 2019. Experts say its findings have been largely ignored by the government. NSIRA also meets in secret and releases an annual report to Parliament.
Mr. Johnston is a former president of the University of Waterloo and onetime principal of McGill University.
Mr. Johnston, a law professor before he became a university administrator, was appointed governor-general by Stephen Harper in 2010 and served until 2017. He is also a member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.
Included in his special-rapporteur job description is a mandate to examine what findings and recommendations to address foreign interference in those two elections were made by CSIS, the Privy Council Office and members of the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol panel that was established to monitor these elections.
Mr. Johnston will also look at what the government communicated about foreign interference and what recommendations were made by various agencies and officials to address foreign interference in elections.
He will also examine what the government did to “defend against or otherwise deal with foreign interference in electoral processes and he will recommend changes that could be made to better combat foreign interference during elections,” Ottawa said in the statement.
Meanwhile, members of a parliamentary committee say they continue to wait for information about when Mr. Trudeau was briefed about foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections.
MPs from the procedure and House affairs committee have sent a letter to the Clerk of the Privy Council that follows up on a previous request for answers. The letter was signed by Conservative, Bloc Québécois and New Democratic MPs.
Jody Thomas, the Prime Minister’s national-security adviser, told the committee early last month that she would disclose the dates when Mr. Trudeau received intelligence briefings on the election issue.
Separately, Thursday, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, who is also responsible for democratic institutions, said he delivered a report to Mr. Trudeau along with Janice Charette, Clerk of the Privy Council. The report said the government will work harder to “bolster public communications on foreign interference” to raise awareness of the risk. This will include working through a recently created office of the National Counter-Foreign Interference Co-ordinator.
“New briefings will be offered to members of Parliament, senators and their staff, and the co-ordinator will work on expanding briefing mechanisms outside the federal government,” Ottawa said in a statement.
The minister said the government will also conduct reviews of existing legislation, such as the CSIS Act, the Criminal Code, the Security of Information Act and the Canada Elections Act.
With a report from The Canadian Press