David Johnston will have 2 months to make call for inquiry on interference: Trudeau

Click to play video: 'Former governor general David Johnston to oversee foreign interference probes'
Former governor general David Johnston to oversee foreign interference probes
WATCH ABOVE: Former governor general David Johnston to oversee foreign interference probes – Mar 15, 2023

Special Rapporteur David Johnston will have two months to decide whether a public inquiry into foreign election interference is needed, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.

Johnston’s mandate was released on Tuesday after he was named to the role last week, a position created by Trudeau’s government as it continues to face questions over its handling of suspected Chinese interference in Canadian elections and society.

Johnston will have until May 23 to make the call on whether a public inquiry is needed, or whether a different kind of independent process such as a judicial review is more appropriate. Trudeau has been under pressure to call an inquiry, but instead passed that decision off to Johnston.

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“Canadians should have confidence in the democratic systems that serve them,” Trudeau said in a news release.

“As Independent Special Rapporteur, Mr. Johnston will play a crucial role in reinforcing the integrity of and upholding Canadians’ confidence in our democratic processes, and I look forward to receiving his recommendations on how we can keep taking steps to ensure Canada is protected against any attempts at undermining our democracy.”

Johnston will submit regular reports to Trudeau, which will also be shared with Leaders of the Opposition and made available to Canadians. He is expected to complete his review by Oct. 31.

Click to play video: 'Reaction to Johnston being named special rapporteur'
Reaction to Johnston being named special rapporteur

The 81-year-old former governor general, who served under both former prime minister Stephen Harper and Trudeau, will have access to any relevant records and documents, classified or unclassified, Trudeau said.

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He will consult and work with institutions, agencies, and officials across the federal government – including the Communications Security Establishment, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Privy Council Office and Elections Canada – as well as political parties represented in the House of Commons.

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The Liberal government has been under immense pressure to explain what it knew about foreign interference in the 2021 election after the Globe and Mail reported last month that intelligence sources said China attempted to interfere in that campaign to help the Liberals win another minority government.

That report came after months of revelations from Global News about allegations of Chinese interference in the 2019 election.

Trudeau recently announced a slew of investigations into the matter, but the creation of the special rapporteur position was billed by the government as a key measure.

After leaving Rideau Hall in 2017, Johnston went to head up the Leaders’ Debates Commission, which arranges debates during Canada’s federal elections. He is stepping down from that position to take on the rapporteur role.

Prior to his role as governor general, Johnston was a professor of constitutional law for 45 years and is a highly respected Canadian legal scholar. He has also chaired or served on many provincial and federal task forces and committees, and has served on the boards of more than a dozen public companies, the PMO said.

In 2007, Harper named Johnston as a special advisor charged with drafting the terms of reference for a public inquiry into the Airbus affair, which became the Oliphant Commission.

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Click to play video: 'Political Panel: Possible election interference'
Political Panel: Possible election interference

He’s also an author, with 25 published books and a new one looking at the role of empathy in Canadian society released in January 2023.

Johnston is also a member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, according to the organization’s website. The charity recently made headlines after it returned a $200,000 donation it received seven years ago following a Globe and Mail report alleging a potential connection to Beijing.

The foundation funds awards and fellowships for doctoral research in the social sciences and humanities. Other members of the foundation include Trudeau’s brother, Alexandre Trudeau, along with prominent current and former leaders from financial institutions, top universities, a former Saskatchewan premier, constitutional experts, lawyers and writers. Its board of directors includes the former lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, a former mayor of Iqaluit, and leaders from prominent Canadian universities and firms.

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It is funded mainly through a $125-million endowment received from the federal government in 2002 and like all registered charities in Canada, is prohibited by law from engaging in any political activity, including funding any entity — parties, candidates, nominees, riding associations – registered with Elections Canada.

Prime Minister Trudeau has had no involvement with the foundation, set up in his late father’s memory, since 2013.

The PMO has said the federal government will “will comply with and implement his public recommendations, which could include a formal inquiry, a judicial review, or another independent review process.”

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