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Green Party co-leader Elizabeth May holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Aug. 18, 2023, to discuss the federal probe into foreign interference in Canadian politics.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The first party leader in the House of Commons to gain access to secret documents reviewed by foreign-interference investigator David Johnston says she is disappointed at the lack of detail provided to her.

Elizabeth May, co-leader of the Green Party, said she had expected to learn a lot more than she did from reviewing materials the government had promised would be available to party chiefs who applied for clearance to view the documents and agreed to keep secret details of what was divulged to them.

“I didn’t get access to things I thought I would by getting top security clearance,” Ms. May told reporters in Ottawa Friday.

“This was well below my expectation of what I would review,” she added in an interview with The Globe and Mail later.

She declined to lay blame for what happened and expressed hope the government has simply erred in failing to make all the necessary documents available to her. She said the Privy Council Office is checking whether it can make more secret documents available.

Foreign interference inquiry must get access to all cabinet confidences, former spies say

Mr. Johnston, the former governor-general, briefly served as a special rapporteur for the government earlier this year to probe reports in media, including The Globe, about efforts by the Chinese government to interfere in Canadian politics. He specifically examined reports of interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections.

Mr. Johnston said in a report tabled in May that foreign interference is an “increasing threat to our democratic system,” and China is “particularly active.” He said he uncovered no proof that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ignored intelligence briefings on Chinese influence operations in the 2019 and 2021 elections and discovered no evidence that Mr. Trudeau was informed of a 2021 warning by CSIS on how Beijing was targeting Conservative MP Michael Chong.

A guide to foreign interference and China’s suspected influence in Canada

The former governor-general prepared what he called a “confidential annex” of information that he told Canadians would be made available to “individuals holding appropriate top secret security clearance to review my conclusions and judge whether they are warranted based on the full information contained in the annex.”

Mr. Trudeau invited opposition leaders to receive security clearances and review the confidential annex in Mr. Johnston’s report. The Prime Minister accused Pierre Poilievre of hiding behind “a veil of ignorance” after the Conservative Leader refused on the grounds he would be forbidden from revealing what he learned.

What Ms. May said she found frustrating was that she was not provided with the actual national-security documents Mr. Johnston reviewed – only summaries and footnotes to the primary material.

“I didn’t see any documents. I saw a summary annex penned by David Johnston” with footnotes that “directed me to documents I cannot read,” she said.

“That doesn’t allow me to verify in any way, shape or form that David Johnston’s conclusions were reasonable or not.”

She said she wanted to see the kind of documents that formed the basis of stories in The Globe, beginning in February when The Globe reported on secret and top-secret CSIS documents that described a concerted strategy by Beijing to disrupt the democratic process in the 2021 election campaign.

Parties in the House of Commons are still negotiating on a public inquiry that would probe media reports, including revelations reported in The Globe that Beijing targeted Mr. Chong, the Conservative foreign-affairs critic, and his relatives in Hong Kong – attempted intimidation that the MP was never told about. The disclosure of this meddling prompted the Canadian government to expel Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei in May.

Ms. May said she reviewed the documents on Aug. 16 for more than 2½ hours in an Ottawa office building with the blinds drawn to prevent surveillance.

She said all that was made available to her were two summaries: one totalling 20 pages and the other comprising five pages.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also plans to review the documents and has obtained the necessary security clearance.

The Prime Minister’s Office referred questions about Ms. May’s experience to the Privy Council Office, a bureaucracy that supports the PMO and cabinet. The PCO did not immediately respond.

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