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NDP to push for ‘national public inquiry’ into foreign interference

Click to play video: 'Canadian national security agencies have dealt with foreign interference ‘for a very, very long time’'
Canadian national security agencies have dealt with foreign interference ‘for a very, very long time’
WATCH: Canadian national security agencies have dealt with foreign interference ‘for a very, very long time’ – Mar 1, 2023

The opposition New Democrats are pushing for a “national public inquiry” into foreign interference in Canadian elections, Global News has learned.

Conservative MPs are expected to support the NDP motion at the House of Commons’ procedure and House affairs committee. The committee is expected to discuss the motion at their Thursday meeting.

Ahead of the committee on Wednesday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said his party would support an “independent and public” inquiry – so long as all parties agree on who leads the inquiry, and that its work is done in public.

“We can’t simply bury it behind closed doors and have it in secret while Canadians are left in the dark, potentially with another election interfered (with) before the results of the commission come out,” Poilievre told reporters.

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However, the Conservatives are expected to propose limiting the inquiry to allegations of foreign meddling by Beijing in the 2019 and 2021 elections – rather than a broader inquiry into foreign influence and interference more generally.

The Bloc Québécois put forward a similar motion Wednesday, urging the committee to report to the House of Commons and have that chamber ask the government for an independent inquiry into Chinese interference led by someone all parties can agree to.

The push comes after weeks of reports of China’s alleged meddling in federal politics. While the motion would not be binding on the government, the alignment of the Conservatives, New Democrats and Bloc on the issue of an inquiry ratchets up pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Asked again on Wednesday about a public inquiry, Trudeau said there were an “awful lot of mechanisms” currently investigating the issue.

“A parliamentary committee is hearing directly from national security experts and officials as to the work that they’ve been doing over the past many years to counter ongoing interference. We also know that the National Security (and Intelligence) Committee of Parliamentarians is going to dig in to this question as they have in the past as well,” Trudeau said.

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“But we will continue to do what is necessary to reach those two clear goals that Canadians can expect. First of all, that our agencies and officials and institutions have all the tools necessary to safeguard our democracy and our elections. And two, that Canadians can continue to have confidence not just in our national security officials, but in the integrity of our democracies.”

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says feds will examine recommendations on foreign election interference after committee panel'
Trudeau says feds will examine recommendations on foreign election interference after committee panel

Foreign influence and interference can encompass a broad range of activity, but generally refers to covert attempts by countries to influence Canadian politics. Most recent reports have focused on Beijing’s alleged interventions in recent elections, but China is by no means the only country believed to be engaged in foreign interference operations.

Global News has learned the NDP’s motion to push for an inquiry is broad, and includes threats from other countries. A planned Conservative amendment would limit the proposed inquiry to allegations of Beijing’s interference operations, and only in relation to the 2019 and 2021 general elections.

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An NDP source said the party is open to amendments on their motion.

Trudeau and the Liberal government have been under mounting pressure to launch some form of independent assessment of foreign interference in Canadian elections. Exclusive reporting by Global News suggests national security officials warned the Trudeau government that the Chinese government had deployed an extensive network to influence Canadian elections – including targeting both Liberals and Conservatives, according to Global’s sources.

Citing leaked documents, the Globe and Mail also reported that Beijing attempted to influence the 2021 vote, targeting Conservative candidates in hopes of a Liberal minority government.

In March 2020, Parliament’s national security committee (NSICOP) reported that foreign interference was a “significant and growing threat” to Canadian domestic affairs. The committee review, however, focused on foreign interference between 2015 and 2018 – not the two most recent federal elections, or foreign interference during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, Trudeau’s national security and intelligence advisor, Jody Thomas, said NSICOP would be well-placed to examine the issue, as the committee can review top secret intelligence that cannot be discussed publicly.

China calls allegations 'baseless and defamatory'

China’s embassy in Ottawa is meanwhile denying reports of attempted election interference in Canada, saying the claims are “baseless and defamatory” and harm diplomatic relations.

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“China has always been firmly against any attempts to interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs,” read a statement the embassy emailed to The Canadian Press.

“We are not interested in meddling with Canada’s internal affairs, nor have we ever tried to do so.”

The embassy says all its consulates follow the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which includes “a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of the state” where diplomats reside.

The embassy also says it has bilateral agreements with Canada that hold diplomats to behaving “in an open and above-reproach manner” in each other’s country.

In the statement, the embassy accused some Canadian agencies, as well as media outlets, of creating and spreading “disinformation” about China and “poisoning the media atmosphere” about the country.

It urged everyone to “stop stigmatizing Chinese consulates and personnel that performed their normal duties.”

— with files from Mackenzie Gray and the Canadian Press. 

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