It would appear that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose wisely when he appointed family friend and former governor general David Johnston as the special rapporteur into foreign interference by China in Canadian elections.
Johnston has advised against a public inquiry, which is exactly what Trudeau kicking and screamingly wanted.
That said, he didn’t have a bad reason to punt the independent public inquiry. Johnston claimed such an inquiry would be hindered by the need for top secret intelligence to be kept private.
“I began with an inclination towards recommending a public inquiry,” he said, “However, as I have undertaken the review process, I asked myself repeatedly what purpose a public inquiry could serve for Canadians in light of the restrictions on the material that would need to be before the commissioner.
“I have concluded it would not serve a useful purpose to enhance trust.”
While a public inquiry is not being recommended by Johnston, he says he plans to hold “a series of public hearings with Canadians” into the issue.
Instead of criticizing the government for how it has handled claims of foreign interference, Johnston took aim at media outlets for reporting on the issue, True North’s Andrew Kozak reported.
According to Johnston, media reports on interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections gave an incomplete, distorted, and sometimes “false” picture of the extent of Chinese interference.
“When viewed in full context with all of the relevant intelligence, several leaked materials that raised legitimate questions turn out to have been misconstrued in some media reports, presumably because of the lack of this context,” wrote Johnston.
So, Johnston decided to shoot the messengers, which will make it interesting when he conducts his now-promised two public hearings and gets into his media observations. There is no indication, however, as to how public and transparent they will be.
Citing the report was “rigged” from the outset and had “zero credibility,” Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre was quick to put out a press release slamming Johnston.
“Justin Trudeau’s handpicked ‘special rapporteur’ has done exactly the job that was asked of him. David Johnston is shamefully helping the Prime Minister cover up Beijing’s attacks on our democracy. This is outrageous, but not surprising,” said Poilievre.
Former Tory leader Erin O’Toole was gobsmacked when given a tight deadline to meet with Johnston, and even more gobsmacked when he learned that Johnston’s 55-page report was already being translated into French.
“I was flabbergasted and realized that nothing I was going to provide to the Special Rapporteur was going to impact his work,” said O’Toole.
“I was left with the clear impression that my meeting was nothing more than a box checking exercise,” he said. “I shared with them detailed examples of my concerns and how I believed that intelligence leaks on interference were the result of many years of inaction by the Prime Minister and senior officials and a steady erosion of trust with our security agencies charged with doing important work in our national interest.
“I was not really asked any questions or given any insights,” said O’Toole. “ It was a very strange meeting.”
Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu said he was “disappointed” in Johnston’s decision not to call for an inquiry.
“Nothing short of a (public inquiry) is good enough to get to the bottom (of this),” Chiu told CBC.
The former MP has blamed Beijing’s alleged election meddling for losing the 2021 election.
He claims he was the target of propaganda and disinformation on WeChat — a Chinese-owned messaging app — that falsely claimed his private members’ bill would unfairly target the Chinese community.
All in all, it’s a very messy stew.