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Canada to continue diplomacy with alleged foreign interference actors: Joly

Click to play video: 'Canada to continue diplomacy with alleged foreign interference actors: Joly'
Canada to continue diplomacy with alleged foreign interference actors: Joly
WATCH: Canada to continue diplomacy with alleged foreign interference actors: Joly – Jun 16, 2024

Canada will continue to have “tough conversations” and pursue diplomacy with foreign states accused of interfering in democratic institutions, including China and India, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly says.

Both of those countries have been at the centre of allegations being heard at the public inquiry on foreign interference, which is probing attempts to meddle in the 2019 and 2021 elections.

Ottawa is also still reeling from a startling report released this month by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) that alleged parliamentarians are “wittingly” or “semi-wittingly” collaborating with foreign governments.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called China a “significant” foreign interference threat.

But Joly told Mercedes Stephenson in an interview that aired Sunday on The West Block that engagement remains “the best way to address those issues.”

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With China specifically, she said there are still areas where the two countries can cooperate “when we must” — such as climate change, health, artificial intelligence and geopolitics — while holding firm and pushing back on issues of tension.

“These are tough conversations,” Joly said.

“I don’t see diplomacy as a gift you give to another country — only allowing them to speak to you. I think it’s the best way to convey really difficult messages in order to make sure that in the end, there is less tension for us and in the world.”

Click to play video: 'Trudeau calls China ‘significant’ foreign interference threat at public inquiry'
Trudeau calls China ‘significant’ foreign interference threat at public inquiry

The minister pointed to actions the government has taken to show it will “never accept any form of foreign interference,” including the expelling last year of Zhao Wei, the former Chinese consul general in Toronto accused of participating in an intimidation campaign against Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong and his family.

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Joly’s deputy minister David Morrison travelled to China for diplomatic meetings in April. Joly has not visited China since she became foreign affairs minister in 2021, when relations with Beijing were already strained.

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The government has also continued to engage with India despite accusing agents of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of murdering Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia a year ago. Four Indian nationals are awaiting trial in Surrey, B.C., for the killing.

Trudeau met with Modi at last week’s G7 Summit in Italy, where world leaders pledged new actions to combat foreign interference.

Joly would not say if diplomacy with India would continue if it is revealed the plot to kill Nijjar came from Modi’s inner circle, as has been alleged.

“It’s a hypothetical question,” she said.

“We have an investigation ongoing, and my job as foreign minister is to make sure that I let the police forces do their work and (the courts), and meanwhile that I do the work of addressing security concerns with India, which I’m doing.”

Click to play video: 'Sikh coalition pushing for confirmation India is interfering in Canadian elections'
Sikh coalition pushing for confirmation India is interfering in Canadian elections

Although India was a key part of Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy that was released before the allegations against Modi’s government were made, Joly said the government is continuing to deepen relationships with other critical partners in the region, including Japan and South Korea.

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She said a goal of Canada’s approach is to increase ties with those countries, as well as Association of Southeast Asian Nations members like Indonesia and the Philippines, to the same level as European partners.

Those relationships with Europe may be put to the test at next month’s NATO Summit in Washington, however, where Canada will be under pressure to show it has a clear roadmap to meeting the alliance’s target of spending at least two per cent of GDP on defence.

The government’s newly-updated defence policy projects Canada will hit 1.76 per cent in five years, but suggests additional spending and procurement that will hit the two per cent target — without a clear timeline.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators wrote directly to Trudeau last month urging his government to provide a roadmap to reaching two per cent in time for the summit in July.

David Cohen, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, warned in his own interview on The West Block last month that Canada is becoming the “outlier” among NATO countries as other members reach and even exceed the spending benchmark.

Click to play video: 'Canada now ‘the outlier’ in NATO on defence spending: U.S. ambassador'
Canada now ‘the outlier’ in NATO on defence spending: U.S. ambassador

That could pose a problem if former U.S. president Donald Trump, who has suggested the U.S. and NATO should abandon members that don’t pay enough for their own defence, returns to the White House next year.

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Joly said she’s “convinced” Canada will close the gap, but would also not say when that might happen.

“We want the NATO summit to be a success,” she said. “It needs to for us, for all allies, for our American friends, and also for NATO itself and Ukraine. So we will be there for burden sharing.”

She added Ottawa is taking a close look at procuring a new submarine fleet, an expense not included in the defence policy update but which Defence Minister Bill Blair has suggested would get Canada to two per cent.

“I’m not the minister of defence, I’m the minister of foreign affairs,” she said. “But I know that procurement has an impact on the relationship you have with other countries. So that’s why we’re taking that decision very, very carefully.”

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