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NDP defends blocking Tory motion to fast-track foreign influence bill

Click to play video: 'Foreign interference bill welcomed but needs work, diaspora groups say'
Foreign interference bill welcomed but needs work, diaspora groups say
The federal government has tabled a bill meant to counter foreign interference, which includes a foreign agent registry and changes to legislation governing CSIS. As David Akin reports, diaspora groups are welcoming the legislation, but have concerns about its implementation – May 7, 2024

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says his party does want to see foreign interference legislation pass through the House of Commons quickly, but his party did not support a Conservative motion to speed up its passage.

On Wednesday, Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong introduced a motion to expedite passage Bill C-70, a wide-ranging bill meant to address foreign interference, by June 12. The House of Commons is scheduled to rise for its summer break on June 21.

The NDP opposed the associated unanimous consent motion seeking to speed up the process, which meant it could not be adopted by the chamber.

NDP House Leader Peter Julian said that the wording of the motion had changed from what was initially agreed to, and that is why he said “no” to unanimous consent.

On Thursday, Singh said Julian is working with his counterparts in the other parties to pass the legislation quickly but the NDP wants to hear more from experts first. Julian said Thursday he expects the legislation to pass before next election.

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“We also want to make sure we have experts providing their advice on how to best improve the bill so that we are protecting people. Our goal throughout any discussion about foreign interference has always been what is in the best interests of Canadians,” Singh said.

Chong, who appeared as a witness during the Hogue commission on foreign interference after he’d been flagged by CSIS as a target of Chinese interference efforts, wrote a letter to Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc saying the Tories would work with the government to pass the bill quickly.

“Mr. Speaker, the government has often asked the official Opposition to work with them and this is an instance in which we will,” Chong said during debate Wednesday.

Speaking to Global News Thursday, Chong said the motion was to essentially cram eight weeks worth of public safety committee hearings into four full days of meetings. He said the NDP opposition doesn’t make sense to him.

“I didn’t get a rationale that made sense to me. That’s why we’re calling on them to some programming motion in the coming days in order to ensure the expeditious passage of this bill through the House with sufficient scrutiny,” Chong said.

“Which is why the motion would have ensured that the public safety committee had sufficient time to hear from witnesses to hear from experts to scrutinize the bill.”

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Click to play video: 'CSIS watchdog flags ‘gaps’ in flow of information'
CSIS watchdog flags ‘gaps’ in flow of information

Bill C-70 aims to give CSIS enhanced powers to address foreign interference, introduce new and updated criminal offences for sabotage and political interference, increased prison sentences for associated offences, and create a foreign influence registry.

Singh said Thursday he doesn’t expect the Conservatives to act in good faith.

This is not something about scoring political points. It’s about protecting democracy,” Singh said.

“So, our position has been very serious and we’ve taken this very seriously throughout, and we want to make sure that we are passing bills, but also hearing from experts ensure that we are making sure Canadians are best protected.”

This comment from Singh does not sit well with Chong.

“I don’t play political games. This is a serious issue that affects many Canadians in diaspora communities, affects many Canadians and the Chinese community, the Persian community, the South Asian community that have been the victims of these foreign interference threat activities that have been the victim of authoritarian states that are targeting them secretly, coercively and corruptly,” Chong said.

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“We’ve heard much testimony in the last several years, particularly through, the public inquiry led by Justice Hogue, that have highlighted these foreign interference threat activities. The time for action is now. We need to take this opportunity to see this bill adopted before we adjourn for the summer.”

Chong added that during a briefing with public servants on the legislation, MPs were told it would take up to 12 months to implement the bill’s measures once passed.

Speaking with Global News on May 7, B.C. NDP MP Jenny Kwan said she believes it is essential to not just pass the bill, but have it implemented by the next federal election.

“Well, I don’t think the bill will pass before the summer, but the bill has to pass before the next election, and it has to be in effect before the next election, not just pass and receive royal assent,” Kwan said that interview.

“So that’s something that I will continue to push the government on and demand that for all Canadians, not just for impacted individuals, not just for parliamentarians, but for all Canadians and for our democratic process.”

Kwan also testified before the Hogue commission as CSIS previously warned her she is a foreign interference target.

— with files from Global News’ Sean Boynton and Mackenzie Gray.

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