Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under increasing cross-partisan pressure to call an independent inquiry into foreign meddling in Canadian politics.
The push for some form of public inquiry isn’t limited to the Liberals’ political opponents, but former senior national security officials and a former close confidant of the prime minister.
“Some form of non-partisan deep look has to happen here,” Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s former principal secretary, told Global News in an interview Sunday.
Butts, now the vice chairman of the Eurasia Group, said there are a number of ways the government could commission a non-partisan investigation, including a public inquiry, Royal commission or a commission of inquiry.
“We have many tools at our disposal,” Butts said, adding that while recent reports have focused on Chinese political interference, the issue is broader.
“It’s not going to get at the heart of the problem if we just pick one election cycle and one country.”
Global News reported Saturday that Dick Fadden, the former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and a longtime senior national security official, said he could see no “compelling reason” not to hold a public inquiry into foreign interference.
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Fadden’s comments came after months of Global’s exclusive reporting that national security officials had repeatedly warned Trudeau that the Chinese government had deployed an extensive network to attempt to influence Canadian elections. The network included both Liberals and Conservatives, according to Global’s sources.
The Globe and Mail also reported that China attempted to influence the 2021 vote, targeting Conservative candidates in hopes of a Liberal minority government. Global News reported in December 2021 that Conservative officials identified 13 ridings where their candidates were targeted by foreign interference campaigns in the election that year.
On Sunday, Artur Wilczynski – a former senior official at the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s electronic espionage agency – echoed Fadden’s call for an independent inquiry.
“We must restore confidence in Canada’s democratic processes. We need an independent review of how we confront foreign interference,” Wilczynski wrote on Twitter.
“There needs to be clarity. If there is doubt – even when inappropriately sowed – Canadians need to know their elections are free of interference.”
The government set up a committee of senior public servants ahead of the 2019 general election to review intelligence of foreign meddling. The committee is required to notify the public if they determine that foreign interference threatens the outcome of the election.
That didn’t happen. In both 2019 and 2021, the committee did not warn the public that foreign threats rose to the level of influencing the outcome of those elections.
That’s not to say there wasn’t foreign interference. National security officials and senior political operatives acknowledge that there is a constant attempt by foreign powers – and not just “hostile” powers – to influence Canadian domestic affairs.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Trudeau acknowledged that reality.
“We’ve been very clear throughout that foreign governments like China, Russia and others are attempting to destabilize our democracies, and yes, interfere with our electoral processes. We need to remain vigilant,” Trudeau said.
“That’s also why we continue to support and encourage the work happening at various committees, the various investigations and follow-ups and the level to which this is being taken seriously by all Canadians, because it is a very serious subject.”
At a recent House of Commons committee meeting, Liberal MP Jennifer O’Connell accused Conservative MPs of deploying “Trump-type tactics” by asking questions about foreign interference.
Asked directly if he would convene a public inquiry into foreign interference, Trudeau said he “welcomed” the reviews underway at committees, but did not answer the question. The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to requests for clarification Saturday.