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Trudeau Appoints Former GG Johnston As Special Rapporteur on Foreign Interference

Published: March 22, 2023
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference at Rideau Hall after asking Governor General Mary Simon to dissolve Parliament on August 15, 2021 in Ottawa, Canada. (Image: DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

On March 15, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named former governor general David Johnston as the Liberal government’s “Special rapporteur” to investigate foreign interference in Canadian elections.

“As Independent Special Rapporteur, David Johnston brings integrity and a wealth of experience and skills, and I am confident that he will conduct an impartial review to ensure all necessary steps are being taken to keep our democracy safe and uphold and strengthen confidence in it,” Trudeau said in a statement.

Johnston is assigned the responsibility to evaluate the impact of foreign interference in the last two federal elections. Trudeau said the specifics of Johnston’s position will be finalized and released publicly. He has also pledged that the Liberal administration will execute any proposals made by Johnston, which may involve conducting a formal public inquiry or a judicial review.

Queen Elizabeth II is welcomed to Canada House by Canada Governor General David Johnston for her visit to Canada House on July 19, 2017 in London, England. The visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh is to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. (Image: Stefan Rousseau – WPA Pool /Getty Images)


Johnston, 81, was appointed as Governor-General in 2010 by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and served in that role for about seven years until 2017. Trudeau referred to him as a “family friend” when Johnston’s term ended.

Before 2010, Johnston had a long academic career and also served in administrative roles as dean of law at the University of Western Ontario, principal of McGill University, and president of the University of Waterloo (UW).

In 2006, Johnston signed an agreement with a Chinese government agency to establish a Confucius Institute at the UW-affiliated Renison University College. According to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Confucius Institutes pose a risk to host universities given their “political mission and links with the Chinese Party-state are not compatible with the principle of independence from political interference that is important for independent academic activity to flourish.”

Additionally, it’s worth noting that Johnston is affiliated with the Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Foundation, which offers scholarship programs in honor of the former Canadian Prime Minister. The foundation recently returned a $200,000 donation after the Globe and Mail revealed that the money came from a wealthy businessman with ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), who was subsequently reimbursed by the CCP for making the donation.

The PM previously said he has had no ties to the foundation since he was elected to public office.


Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet have voiced their concerns over Trudeau’s appointment of Johnston.

“Justin Trudeau has named a ‘family friend,’ old neighbour from the cottage, and member of the Beijing funded Trudeau foundation, to be the ‘independent’ rapporteur on Beijing’s interference,” Poilievre said in a statement on March 16.

Blanchet has expressed concerns regarding Johnston’s relationship with Trudeau and his views on China, which he characterizes as “admiration” for the regime.

Conservative Party’s Deputy Leader Melissa Lantsman said the prime minister has appointed a “Trudeau Foundation insider to tell us that we don’t need a public inquiry into Beijing’s donations to the Trudeau Foundation & their election interference.” “Maybe it would be best to find someone not associated with it?” she wrote on Twitter on March 15.

Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer called the Trudeau Foundation a “partisan group of elite insiders” that received funding from Beijing. “No one associated with it can be trusted on this issue. Call a public inquiry now,” Scheer tweeted on March 15.

In his statement on March 16, Poilievre reiterated his call for the prime minister to initiate a public inquiry into foreign interference. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also expressed his support for a public inquiry, stating that he has confidence in Johnston’s ability to perform his duties in a non-partisan manner but believes that a public inquiry should still be conducted regardless of Johnston’s recommendations.