Foreign interference: David Johnston advises against holding a public inquiry
OTTAWA | Special Rapporteur David Johnston is not bowing to pressure, refusing to recommend a public and independent inquiry into foreign interference, even though there is “not a shadow of a doubt” that foreign governments are trying to influence Canadian candidates and voters.
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“Initially, when I was appointed, I thought it was very likely that they would recommend that a public inquiry be held. But given the documents and information at the heart of all public inquiries, I rather come to the conclusion that this could not take place in public,” Mr Johnston writes in his long-awaited 65-page report published on Tuesday . . .
He explains that the “sensitive nature of the information” and “the risk of harm if disclosed” would force an investigation “almost completely behind closed doors”, which could also “unnecessarily delay” the delivery of a final report and the implementation of necessary corrective measures.
Mr. Johnston instead proposes “public hearings” that would gather opinions from experts and representatives of the diasporas.
The goal will be “to speak publicly about these issues to the Canadian people and listen to what they have to say”. In particular, they will focus on “serious deficiencies in the way intelligence is disseminated and processed”.
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Information lost in bureaucratic labyrinth
“Information that should be brought to the attention of a minister or the prime minister does not reach them because it gets lost in the maze of government documents,” worries Johnston.
“Documents are released, but no one tracks who has received or read them. This means that certain information can be sent to different consumers, but is not always actually consumed,” he describes.
This is, for example, what happened in the case of Conservative MP Michael Chong, whose family in Hong Kong was allegedly the target of intimidation attempts from Beijing. The intelligence services had sent the information to the government, but it never reached Justin Trudeau or the ministers concerned.
“This is arguably the most prominent, but not the only, example of poor information flow and mishandling of information between organisations, the civil service and ministers,” Johnston writes.
The media misinterpreted the information
According to Mr. Johnston said “a good amount of work has already been done” not only by the bodies established since 2016 by the government, but also under its leadership.
Since his appointment as special rapporteur in March by Justin Trudeau, he says he has met with more than 30 senior officials and intelligence officials who have given him a clear picture of the situation and its context.
Portrait that would not have had the media, which is the cause of the scandal, according to him. In his report, he refutes several of the reports published in recent months about interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections and based on intelligence leaks.
“Several of the leaked documents that raise legitimate questions appear to have been misinterpreted in some media reports,” he writes.
Mr. Johnston also met with a number of ministers and opposition party leaders, except Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, who rejected his offer.
Finally, the special rapporteur calls for “every possible effort to identify those who disclose information and hold them accountable”, a plea that the Prime Minister himself made. To support his point, Mr. Johnston that “we cannot rule out evil”.