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Trudeau to Appoint ‘Special Rapporteur’ for Election Interference Probe; Most Canadians Prefer Public Inquiry

Published: March 9, 2023
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with reporters during a news conference on Parliament Hill on Feb. 11, 2022 in Ottawa, Canada. (Image: DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

In response to allegations that the Chinese communist regime interfered in Canadian elections, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that his government would appoint a special rapporteur to look into election integrity, even though opposition parties are pushing hard for a public inquiry.

A new survey finds that close to two-thirds of Canadians support calling an independent public
inquiry into foreign interference in elections.

Among the election foreign interference allegations are an earlier report on Nov. 7, 2022, by Global News that China had provided funding to at least 11 candidates in the 2019 campaign, and a report by the Globe and Mail this February that China worked to help the Liberals win the general election in 2021 and to get rid of Conservative politicians who were not friendly to Beijing. The latest report on March 8, 2023, by Global News said that, before the 2019 election, Trudeau was aware that Chinese government officials were funneling money to federal candidates.

The Conservatives, NDP, and Bloc Québécois are demanding a full public inquiry into the allegations, but Trudeau has ruled out the possibility of doing so, calling the debate around the issue of holding a public inquiry a partisan one.

Trudeau’s special rapporteur

At a March 6 press conference in Ottawa, Trudeau announced his government will appoint — in the coming days — a special rapporteur to carry out the investigation. He also announced he would ask the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), along with the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA), an oversight body, to look at the issue.

The selection of the “independent special rapporteur” will be done by the government and not by Parliament, Trudeau said, but he’s open to listening to recommendations from other parties on the appointment. The chosen one will be an “eminent Canadian” and “someone impartial,” according to the prime minister.

Trudeau said that the special rapporteur’s job will be to look at all of Canada’s national security agencies, including the tools they use to stop foreign interference. The role of the rapporteur will be very broad, and it will include making recommendations on how to stop foreign interference and make Canada’s democratic institutions stronger.

Trudeau also said that the first task of the rapporteur will be to suggest what kind of process should come next. This could be a formal inquiry or another kind of review process, which could be set up like the Public Order Emergency Commission run by Justice Paul Rouleau.

“But given the limits and shortcomings of that process, perhaps he will choose another way to
reassure Canadians about foreign interference,” said the prime minister.

The official opposition, on the other hand, doesn’t think the Liberal government will choose a truly independent watchdog to do the investigation.

On March 7, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said that a special rapporteur “hand-picked by the Prime Minister is not the same as a true independent inquiry.”

“He’ll pick another Liberal establishment insider—a real Ottawa insider with some grey hair who looks like a reasonable fellow, but we all know that it will be someone tied to him, tied to the Liberals, here to protect the Liberal establishment,” Poilievre said.

According to the Tory leader, anyone heading the investigation into interference should be approved by all parties and the House of Commons.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh also argued a public inquiry would be a better approach to restoring Canadians confidence in their elections. Singh said his party wants a process that is both independent and transparent. He said the special rapporteur meets the goal of independence, but it might not be transparent, so he is prepared to wait for details.

“The second question about transparency, or the public element, is one that could be met or could not be met. That’s one that we’re not certain of, and that’s why we’re saying that the government’s announcements are baby steps,” Singh said.

Among a number of measures to deal with foreign interference, Trudeau said he has asked Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino to set up a counter-foreign interference coordinator. This new office will make sure that the problem is dealt with “in a coordinated way” by different government departments and agencies. Mendicino has also been asked to launch a consultation on creating a registry for foreign influence agents in Canada.

Ongoing PROC examination

Meanwhile, following the reports by Global News and the Globe and Mail that security officials told Trudeau about Chinese attempts to interfere with the election, MPs on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) have spent four months looking into the interference.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, National Security and Intelligence Advisor Jody Thomas, CSIS Director David Vigneault, Chief Electoral Officer Stephane Perrault, and Commissioner of Canada Elections Caroline Simard have all testified before the committee.

On March 2, MPs on the PROC voted 6–5 in favor of a motion calling for the Trudeau government to launch a national public inquiry into China’s interference in Canada’s elections. The motion, which is non-binding, would still have to be passed to the House to decide whether or not to accept the committee’s advice.

The Conservatives believe that to get answers about China’s meddling in the past two federal elections, they need to hear from Katie Telford, who has served as the Prime Minister’s chief of staff since the Liberals took power in 2015. Besides managing the PM’s office and working with the chiefs of staff of other ministers, Telford also acts as the PM’s senior adviser and top aide.

According to Telford’s testimony during the public inquiry into the government’s use of the Emergencies Act during the “Freedom Convoy” protests in 2022, it’s her job to provide Trudeau “with all the advice and the inputs that he needs to make the best decisions he can for Canadians.”

On Tuesday, March 7, Conservative MP Michael Cooper brought a motion to the House of Commons committee for the fourth time, asking Telford to testify for three hours. The NDP and the Bloc Québécois backed the motion.

“What is the heart of the issue is what the prime minister knows, when he first knew about it, and what he did or failed to do,” Cooper told MPs. According to Cooper, questioning Telford is “crucial to getting to the truth.”

However, Liberal members of the committee used the strategy of filibustering to talk out the clock, leaving no time for MPs to vote on whether to call her as a witness.

Previously, three other attempts by Cooper to have her testify also failed. The first two failed due to the NDP voting against his motions. The third try, on March 1, failed to get a chance to vote due to time running out after several amendments to the motion.

Public opinions

A new poll shows that almost two-thirds of Canadians support a public inquiry into foreign interference in elections, and 58 percent of Canadians think that foreign governments have successfully influenced voting in their country.

An online polling company called Research Co. released the results of a survey they did with 1,000 adults from Feb. 26 to Feb. 28 on March 6. The survey is statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender, and region.

The poll asked, “All things considered, do you support or oppose calling an independent inquiry into foreign interference in electoral processes in Canada?”

The poll found that 64 percent of Canadians want an independent inquiry, with 21 percent opposed and 15 percent undecided. Among Canadians aged 55 and over, 73 percent of them support a public inquiry; among those aged 35 to 54, 61 percent are in favor; and among the even younger people aged 18 to 34, 59 percent want an independent inquiry.

Seventy-two percent said Canada should do the same as Australia, which “recently passed a set of laws to make foreign interference illegal or limit it in every way,” the survey report said.

“These laws criminalize covert and deceptive or threatening activities by persons intending to interfere with Australia’s democratic systems and processes, or to support the intelligence activities of a foreign government,” it said.

“Canadians of all political stripes believe the country should enact tougher laws to shield against foreign interference,” Mario Canseco, president of Research Co., said in a news release. “Sizable majorities of Canadians who supported the Liberals (80 percent), the New Democrats (75 percent), and the Conservatives (73 percent) in the 2021 federal election are in agreement.”