The federal government needs to do more to address foreign interference in Canada’s elections and should consider calling a public inquiry, said the author of a report reviewing Ottawa’s efforts to protect the integrity of elections.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has resisted calls for a public inquiry in the wake of reports from The Globe and Mail, based on leaked Canadian Security Intelligence Service documents, that China employed a sophisticated strategy to disrupt Canada’s democracy in the 2021 election campaign.
“It’s an option that I think needs to be on the table,” Morris Rosenberg, report author and former deputy minister of foreign affairs told CTV’s Question Period with Vassy Kapelos on Sunday. He added that an inquiry could be struck in a way that addresses the concerns of those arguing against such a probe, for example having a judge with security clearance review the secret documents.
Mr. Rosenberg also said the government has to do more to combat the threat of interference and not lose a “sense of urgency.” He pointed to possibilities like establishing a foreign-influence registry and reviewing the CSIS Act.
Last Tuesday, the government released Mr. Rosenberg’s assessment of the civil service panel that was responsible for flagging incidents that threatened the integrity of the 2021 election.
The report found that efforts to meddle in the election did not affect the outcome of the vote. But Mr. Rosenberg noted that it’s difficult to assess the impact of interference on riding-level results.
Members of Parliament will return to the House of Commons on Monday amid growing scrutiny of Chinese interference and a pileup of questions about what the Prime Minister knew about China’s efforts to influence the election result.
Mr. Trudeau last faced opposition scrutiny in the House two weeks ago. Since then, The Globe reported that CSIS discovered the Chinese government was targeting Mr. Trudeau in a foreign-influence operation after he became Liberal Leader in 2013 and that Chinese diplomats and their proxies backed the re-election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals – but only to another minority government – and worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered to be unfriendly to Beijing.
Mr. Rosenberg told CTV that he “wasn’t privy” to the leaked information reported by the media in the past few weeks when he wrote the report.
Last week, senior security and intelligence officials told a House of Commons committee that Canada’s election integrity held in 2019 and 2021, but they declined to comment on any of the secret and top-secret information leaked to the media.
The Conservative Party has questioned the credibility of Mr. Rosenberg’s report because he worked as the CEO of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation from 2014 to 2018. His independence was questioned not just because of his ties to an organization so closely connected to the Prime Minister but also because during his tenure, the foundation accepted a $200,000 donation from a Chinese billionaire in 2016.
Last week, The Globe reported that, according to information uncovered by CSIS, the donation was part of a Beijing-directed influence operation to curry favour with the current Prime Minister.
Mr. Rosenberg told CTV he has served as a senior civil servant for Liberal and Conservative governments and remains non-partisan. He also argued that the Trudeau Foundation is independent and non-partisan.
Last week, the organization said it returned the donation.