Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday May 25, 2023
Opposition Parties Reject Access to Classified Information in Inquiry Decision
On Wednesday, the Bloc Québécois and the Conservatives aligned in their refusal to examine classified information that had led to a watchdog’s recommendation against a public inquiry into allegations of foreign interference. Both party leaders expressed their reluctance to be bound by the obligation of secrecy.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, urged his colleagues to prioritize facts over partisan interests, specifically calling out Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre. During an event in Winnipeg, Trudeau criticized Poilievre, stating, “Pierre Poilievre is deliberately choosing to remain uninformed.”
David Johnston, appointed by Trudeau as a special rapporteur in March to investigate the foreign interference allegations, presented his initial report on Tuesday. The report advised against initiating a public inquiry into the allegations of foreign interference during the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. These allegations had been a contentious issue for the government following reports by Global News and the Globe and Mail, which referred to leaked national security documents and anonymous sources.
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In his report, Johnston also recommended that the government grant the necessary security clearances to other party leaders, allowing them access to the complete report, including a confidential annex of materials used to reach his conclusions. Despite calls from the NDP, Conservatives, and Bloc Québécois for a public inquiry, Johnston explained that due to national security concerns, the reviewed intelligence must remain classified. Consequently, a formal inquiry would largely be conducted behind closed doors. Instead, Johnston pledged to hold public hearings to discuss the broader issue of foreign interference, without delving into the specific allegations.
Johnston acknowledged the challenge of not being able to publicly disclose the reviewed information and emphasized the importance of future potential leaders of the country intentionally remaining unaware. He also recognized the opposition leaders’ desire not to be constrained by security laws that prohibit the sharing of such material.
Trudeau accepted Johnston’s findings and sent letters to Opposition leaders, inviting them to begin the process of obtaining the required security clearances. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh expressed his intention to do so. However, Poilievre rejected the offer, vowing to call for a public inquiry if the Conservatives formed the next government. Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet also supported him, describing the opportunity as “a misguided trap.”
Trudeau urged opposition leaders, including Poilievre, to review the substance of Johnston’s report, emphasizing the gravity of the situation. He singled out Poilievre, stating, “He is more interested in political arguments and personal attacks than in confronting the facts. Can we consider him a serious leader?”
Poilievre, speaking to reporters in Toronto on Wednesday, criticized Johnston as a “Trudeau insider,” highlighting the former governor general’s friendship with Prime Minister Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and his involvement in the foundation named after the former prime minister. In response, Johnston defended his work and his relationship with the current prime minister, stating that their families had gone skiing together decades ago.
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Poilievre suggested that an experienced judge in handling national security cases should be responsible for determining which information should remain classified and what could be made public if an inquiry were to be called. He asserted, “Justin Trudeau is concealing something.”
Although Poilievre declined the opportunity to closely examine the report himself, he stated that he would not hinder the review by Conservative MPs serving on the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. Johnston confirmed that these committee members would receive additional information and could challenge his conclusions if necessary.
On Wednesday, MPs from the NDP, Conservatives, and Bloc Québécois on the House of Commons procedure committee jointly signed a letter requesting Johnston’s presence before them to answer questions about his decision not to recommend a public inquiry. The letter, shared on social media by Conservative MP Michael Cooper, characterized Johnston’s decision as “a disregard for diaspora groups who face abuse and intimidation from hostile foreign governments.” (AI)