Johnston must ‘answer’ on interference report at committee, opposition MPs say

Click to play video: 'David Johnston files first report on alleged foreign interference investigation'
David Johnston files first report on alleged foreign interference investigation
WATCH — David Johnston files first report on alleged foreign interference investigation – May 24, 2023

David Johnston must “answer” as to why he recommended against a public inquiry to probe foreign interference, opposition MPs investigating the allegations say.

Conservative, Bloc Québécois and NDP members of the House of Commons’ procedure and House affairs committee signed a letter Tuesday requesting a meeting to discuss having the 81-year-old former governor general Johnston testify before it.

The House committee is one of two investigating suspected foreign interference in Canada. Johnston, who was tapped by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to serve as special rapporteur on the matter, advised Tuesday against a public inquiry, which opposition MPs have sought for months.

“David Johnston’s decision is a slap in the face to diaspora groups who are subject to abuse and intimidated by hostile foreign governments and all Canadians rightly concerned about foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections and future elections,” the letter reads.

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“David Johnston must come before committee and answer for this decision at the earliest opportunity.”

The letter was signed by Tory MPs John Nater, Michael Cooper and Blaine Calkins, NDP MP Rachel Blaney and Bloc Québécois MP Marie-Helen Gaudreau. The six other members of the committee are Liberal MPs, including chair Bardish Chagger.

A meeting to discuss the request to hear from Johnston is scheduled for Thursday at 2 p.m. eastern.

After having two months to decide whether a public inquiry or another form of independent review was warranted, Johnston recommended against such a forum on Tuesday in his initial report as special rapporteur. However, he said public hearings into the matter were warranted.

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Click to play video: 'Special rapporteur advises no public inquiry into foreign interference'
Special rapporteur advises no public inquiry into foreign interference

Trudeau has said he will abide by Johnston’s recommendations.

“What allowed me to determine whether there had actually been interference cannot be disclosed in public. A public review of classified intelligence simply cannot be done for that reason,” Johnston said Tuesday.

The prime minister has been under pressure for months from opposition leaders to hold a public inquiry amid mounting allegations of foreign meddling in Canadian society, including recent elections.

Click to play video: 'Johnston recommends public hearings on foreign interference allegations'
Johnston recommends public hearings on foreign interference allegations

Those allegations, detailed in reports from Global News and the Globe and Mail, have put increased scrutiny on the government to explain when it was made aware of foreign threats and attempted meddling, and what the Liberals have done to prevent it in the future.

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Experts have said a public inquiry would allow for a detailed, transparent conversation about what kind of threat Canada is actually facing, and spur a discussion about whether the Liberals are taking the issue seriously.

“A public inquiry will simply not deliver the level of transparency and urgency Canadians expect. The intelligence that I have reviewed is and must remain secret. As a result, the reality is any credible public inquiry would not be public at all,” Johnston said Tuesday.

“In contrast, by conducting a thorough review of my conclusions and recommendations, our intelligence oversight committees … have the opportunity and the duty to help restore Canadians’ trust in our democratic institutions.”

Click to play video: 'Johnston will ‘look at’ possible declassification of documents ahead of final report: Trudeau'
Johnston will ‘look at’ possible declassification of documents ahead of final report: Trudeau

The public hearings Johnston recommends should address parts of his mandate that are not classified, he said. Johnston suggested he conduct the hearings as part of the second phase of his work. Johnston will be in the role until October.

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He added that the public hearings will include members of diaspora communities and experts in national security and international relations.

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