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Trudeau naming special rapporteur to investigate foreign interference

Facing pressure over rising concerns around foreign interference in Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be naming a new special rapporteur to investigate.

Trudeau made the announcement on Monday as part of a suite of new measures aimed at addressing Canadians’ concerns over alleged election meddling by China during the last two federal campaigns.

One of the yet-to-be-selected independent official’s first orders of business will be to recommend to the federal government whether a formal inquiry or other form of probe or judicial review is the best next step. 

The prime minister is also referring the issue of foreign election interference back to a top-secret committee known as the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP).

And, he’s asking the external expert body known as the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) to examine the work done by Canadian intelligence bodies as it pertains to foreign interference. 

“In the past few weeks, people have expressed many different views about the steps we should be taking to answer questions about foreign interference. To me, it comes down to two things: that our democratic institutions are safe from foreign interference, and that Canadians have confidence that it is so,” Trudeau said Monday.

Noting the mixed views among Canadians and experts around a public inquiry, Trudeau said the Liberals will “abide by” the guidance of the “eminent Canadian” chosen, on whether one is needed and if so, what its mandate and scope should be.

“Making sure that… whatever process is necessary, is unimpeachable from the very beginning is going to be part of reassuring Canadians.”

The special rapporteur will have a “wide mandate” and will make recommendations on combatting interference and strengthening Canada’s democracy, Trudeau said, vowing they will named “in the coming days.”

He said in time, the special rapporteur will be responsible for examining the entire national security landscape and tools to counter interference in Canadian affairs, to inform the future work of the federal government , as well as the work Elections Canada does to shore up federal campaigns from foreign interference.

This comes as opposition-led calls for the federal government to launch a public inquiry dominated the Commons’ return on Monday, with MP after MP rising in the House, imploring the government to act and provide more openness around the issue.

Trudeau was not present to field these calls, but during Monday’s address he detailed at length the various efforts the Liberals have taken since 2015 to try to enhance Canada’s ability to detect, deter and combat interference, as well as announcing what new measures are in the works.

Trudeau said the Liberals will be launching consultations this week on enacting a “foreign influence transparency registry”; will create a plan to implement outstanding recommendations from past interference reviews; and spend $5.5 million on building civil society organizations’ capacity to counter disinformation.


Early reaction from the opposition parties indicate that these steps will not be enough to satiate their desire to see a public inquiry called imminently. 

The inquiry calls stem from a desire for more Liberal openness around the story that’s been dominating headlines over the last few weeks: intelligence sources alleging in reports from The Globe and Mail and Global News that China interfered in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. The leaks are now under RCMP investigation.

Last week, opposition MPs on the Procedure and House Affairs Committee passed a motion calling for the federal government to launch a national public inquiry into allegations of foreign interference broadly, including in Canadian elections.

Those backing the motion wanted to see Trudeau strike an inquiry with the power to compel documents and key witnesses, and for the individual heading this inquiry to be unanimously selected by all recognized parties in the House of Commons.

This non-binding motion passed after hours of testimony from top intelligence officials who sought to assure that the integrity of Canada’s last two elections was upheld despite meddling attempts by China, while cautioning that they’d be limited in what more they could say in a public forum.

“All political leaders agree that the election outcomes in 2019 and in 2021 were not impacted by foreign interference… But even if it didn’t change the results of any of our elections, any interference attempt by any foreign actor is troubling and serious,” Trudeau said.

Reacting to the news, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said the Liberals continue to try to “cover up the truth,” and suggested the NSICOP was being used “to avoid accountability” and the special rapporteur would be limited in their powers.

“Parliament is supreme. A majority of the parties in the House of Commons have demanded a full public, independent inquiry and the continuation of the investigation by the parliamentary Committee. Anything less is wholly insufficient to respond to the gravity of the situation,” said Poilievre in a statement.

Both Poilievre and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said prior to Trudeau’s announcement on Monday that they wouldn’t be able to get behind any process that’s lacking transparency. They dismissed the idea of party leaders receiving secret briefings on classified material—which is not far off from how the NSICOP operates.

Singh said he didn’t think any new investigation should be conducted behind closed doors by politicians, while refusing to commit to making a full public inquiry a red line for the fate of the Liberal-NDP confidence-and-supply agreement that Poilievre has taken to calling the “cover-up coalition.”

“The process should be public,” said Singh prior to the prime minister’s press conference. Reacting to the news of NSICOP’s role, the NDP said in a statement that it was not “an acceptable substitute” for an inquiry and that “the way to stop foreign actors from acting in secret is to refuse to keep their secrets.”

In a statement in French, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet echoed the responses of his fellow opposition leaders, continuing to call for a public inquiry.

Responding to Poilievre’s early accusation that the Liberals were trying to “sweep this under the rug,” during question period, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc accused him of doing “absolutely nothing” on the file when CSIS identified foreign interference as a challenge during the time he was the minister responsible for democratic reform under former prime minister Stephen Harper.

After Monday’s raucous question period, Trudeau said Monday that foreign interference should “not be boiled down to sound bites and binary choices,” nor should it become a partisan issue. He then went on to repeat similar lines about Conservative inaction nearly a decade ago.


The NSICOP is a high-level oversight body was created in 2017. It mirrors similar committees set up in the other “Five Eyes” alliance countries. Members include MPs and senators from major parties, who must have the highest level of, or “top secret,” security clearance.

The mandate of the committee is to act as the oversight body for Canada’s national security and intelligence agencies, but it reports to Trudeau, and then tables declassified versions of its findings in Parliament.

The NSIRA is Canada’s independent expert review body for all national security and intelligence activities, created in 2019. It was designed in part to review agencies’ collection and use of sensitive intelligence.

Trudeau said Monday that he’d spoken with the heads of both bodies, to underscore that “Canadians need to have faith in their institutions and deserve answers and transparency,” and talked to them about taking on “urgent” work on this topic under their respective mandates.

This will include the NSICOP updating its last report reviewing foreign interference, with a focus on our elections, and NSIRA examining whether information on foreign interference is flowing properly across intelligence agencies and government departments. Both reports will be provided to Parliament. 

“When democratic institutions are under attack, it is just that it’d be parliamentarians, elected officials who should be stepping up to protect those institutions,” Trudeau said Monday.

The NSICOP has previously studied the threat foreign interference poses to Canada and has reviewed the work of the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections (SITE) Task Force in its monitoring of meddling in the last two general elections.

In 2019, the NSICOP issued a report calling the threat of foreign interference in Canada real, while flagging that the federal government needs to do more to counter what is a “significant and sustained” effort to meddle from China, Russia and other state actors. 

The NSICOP report found the federal government slow to react to the threat of foreign interference. Its members have also spoken out against a lack of responses from the government to its various calls for actions. When asked what will change now, Trudeau admitted the Liberals need to do a better job of responding.

Trudeau has repeatedly pointed to the NSICOP as a better venue than an inquiry for officials to consider sensitive security issues such as this, behind closed doors.

Former NSICOP member and retired senator Vern White told CTV News he thinks the NSICOP is a better place to examine these concerns than a public inquiry as it could delve deeper, report back faster, and do so in a way with enough nuance to communicate adequate information without infringing on national security.

White pointed to NSICOP’s past report on Trudeau’s troubled trip to India as an example.

“You can go back and read any of the reports… I don’t think there’s ever been complaints about people reading those reports [that] they could not glean enough intelligence and information out of them to know what happened,” White said. “There are things that can’t be disclosed and that are redacted. But, I think any public inquiry of this sort would also find a fair amount of the information gleaned would have to be redacted.”


Chinese Canadians have been among those calling for more transparency, in lockstep with careful consideration of how those involved are communicating that the concern is with the People’s Republic of China.

Ryan Chan of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice recently told CTV News that he thinks “some form of inquiry that’s public, non-partisan, that would look into issues of foreign government interference” should be called, but expressed concern about the potential and misplaced backlash against Chinese Canadians in the process.

“I think first and foremost… we’re focused on this issue of kind of dispelling myths or, or at least giving full public insights into what is actually going on,” he said.

“We broadly support a public inquiry as long as it’s neutral, as long as it’s transparent, that would shed light on foreign governments’ influenced into whether or not it affects our domestic politics,” said Chan.

During last week’s committee hearings, both MPs and top intelligence witnesses made the point of emphasizing that, as CSIS Director David Vigneault put it, “the threat does not come from the Chinese people, but rather from the Chinese Communist Party and the government of China.”

Vigneault noted that Chinese-Canadian parliamentarians and Chinese Canadians are often the primary victims of the People’s Republic of China’s foreign interference efforts in Canada and federal intelligence bodies continue to put efforts towards building relationships with this community and its leaders to “establish and sustain trust.”

“It’s a very delicate thing to communicate when going after the Chinese government and what they’re doing, versus what Chinese Canadians are doing,” Bert Chen, a former Conservative national council member, told CTV News.

“And we have to be very precise about these discussions and its public discourse, because as a country of immigrants talking about a country that people may have come from, it’s a very delicate balance to communicate what the state is doing back in a home country, and what Canadians here are doing now.”

Cheuk Kwan, past chair of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, told CTV News that as a Chinese Canadian he doesn’t view raising questions about Chinese interference as racism, while noting that Chinese Canadians have for years been trying to draw attention to some of Beijing’s influence tactics.

“We are allowed to criticize China without being called racist… I think this is a normal way to deal with critics and, I believe that people are buying this line that that the CCP has been peddling all these years,” Kwan said. “We’re not dealing with denigrating Chinese people. Were just investigating a Chinese government, or any government for that matter.”

Some advocates have also voiced support for a foreign agent registry, as well as improved civic education and digital literacy resources as other actions that the federal government can take, in addition to as making it easier for members of the Chinese diaspora in Canada to flag to officials instances of political interference they experience.

“We need to rebuild that trust with the diaspora, allow them to safely come up their concerns, allow them to safely participate in any type of investigation or inquiry into any types of foreign interference,” said Cherie Wong, executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong.

“But I also believe that we need to take a country-agnostic, non-partisan and a cross-jurisdictional approach and looking at any type of foreign influence in Canadian elections.”

Speaking to the commitment to begin a public engagement on enacting a foreign agent registry on Monday evening, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino noted the importance of bringing along “all communities.” 

With files from CTV National News’ Judy Trinh and Glen McGregor 

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