A Quebec judge will lead a national public inquiry into allegations of foreign interference from nations like China and Russia, as well as other actors, in Canadian elections and society.
Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc, who is also the minister for democratic institutions, revealed Thursday that Marie-Josée Hogue, a puisne judge of the Court of Appeal of Quebec, has been tapped to lead the inquiry under the Inquiries Act.
Hogue’s appointment comes after a months-long search for a judge to head an inquiry after former governor general David Johnston, the special rapporteur looking into allegations of foreign interference, resigned from the role in June amid accusations of bias.
Hogue will be tasked with examining and assessing interference by China, Russia and other foreign states and non-state actors during the 2019 and 2021 general elections at the national and electoral district levels, LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc added Hogue will have to present an interim report by Feb. 29, 2024, and a final report in December of that year; Hogue will take the helm on Sept. 18.
Hogue’s appointment as well as the terms of reference for the inquiry have “unanimous” approval from all recognized parties in the House of Commons, he said.
“Justice Hogue will have full access to all relevant cabinet documents, as well as all other information she deems relevant for the purposes of her inquiry,” LeBlanc told reporters in Ottawa.
“In addition to examining and assessing interference by China, Russia and other foreign state and non-state actors, Justice Hogue will also look at the flow of information to senior decision makers, including elected officials.”
LeBlanc added Hogue will decide how much of the inquiry will be held in public and what needs to be done in camera when handling national security information.
“This is a global challenge for democracies. China is not the only country that seeks to interfere in an inappropriate way,” LeBlanc said, noting he has spoken with his counterpart in the U.K. over the summer about the challenges they are seeing with foreign interference. “We did not want to restrict it to one country alone.”
Hogue was appointed as puisne judge in the Quebec appeals court on June 19, 2015, according to the court’s website. Hogue had been a partner with the firm McCarthy Tétrault since January 2014.
Hogue was previously a partner with Heenan Blaikie LLP, and a law clerk to Antonio Lamer of the Supreme Court of Canada from 1988 to 1989. Hogue’s main areas of practice were corporate commercial litigation, civil litigation and professional liability.
She also practiced administrative law and constitutional law, according to the court.
“It is vital that our electoral processes and democratic institutions be protected from foreign interference. In the coming weeks, I will be focused on advancing the work of the public inquiry, consistent with my terms of reference,” Hogue said.
“I look forward to this important work and will provide details on subsequent steps in due course.”
Opposition parties have been demanding a public inquiry for months and the Liberals initially balked at the idea, instead tapping Johnston to lead a probe into the matter.
They asked him to advise before the end of May whether an inquiry was warranted. He concluded that because so many of the matters were cloaked in secrecy due to national security implications, a public inquiry would be less useful.
The Conservatives were outraged and accused Johnston of bias because of past ties to the family of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as well as the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, created in honour of his father.
Johnston denied any partisan bias and the Liberals pointed out repeatedly that he was appointed governor general on the advice of then-Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, but he decided to step down from the role.
Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, who has said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) informed him that he and his party had been the target of an “active voter suppression campaign” by China in the 2021 election, said Thursday that Hogue is a “solid choice” to lead the inquiry.
“The terms of reference must ensure she is also not provided with a curated view of intelligence as the special rapporteur was,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“Canadians deserve a serious, fulsome and non-partisan inquiry.”
Conservative MP Andrew Scheer told reporters on Thursday that his party accepts Hogue’s appointment.
However, “Conservatives will be watching like hawks to make sure that Canadians get the real answers that they deserve about foreign interference in our democracy,” he said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, whose party has a supply-and-confidence agreement with the governing minority Liberals, told reporters Thursday his party will continue to use its power because “we believe in defending our democracy.”
“We want to make sure that people have trust in our democratic institutions, and that’s why we’ve always believed a public inquiry was the right way to go,” he said.
Foreign interference has been a persistent issue in Ottawa this year amid reporting on allegations of Chinese meddling in Canada from The Globe and Mail and Global News.
As stories broke, so did revelations that Beijing attempted to target sitting politicians, including Tory MP Michael Chong.
In May, the federal government confirmed a Globe and Mail report that CSIS had information in 2021 that Beijing was looking at ways to intimidate Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong.
China has denied the allegations that it targeted Chong after the MP voted in February 2021 in favour of a motion in the House of Commons condemning China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority as a genocide.
The spat led to both nations expelling diplomats in a tit-for-tat move and prompted a policy change for CSIS to inform MPs of threats no matter how serious.
Since then, NDP MP Jenny Kwan has said CSIS has told her that she’s been a target of Chinese government interference. She said the interference attempts date back to the 2019 federal election but are believed to be ongoing.
As a result, Trudeau said Thursday that rapprochement with China isn’t in the cards right now.
“Rapprochement? No,” he said.
— with files from Global News’ Touria Izri and The Canadian Press
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