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Ottawa Urges Timely Release of Findings in Foreign Interference Inquiry

The Liberal government says short timetables given to the newly-appointed commissioner heading the public inquiry into foreign interference are necessary to promptly reassure Canadians.

“We understand the importance of moving quickly,” Public Safety Minister Dominic Leblanc told reporters in Ottawa on Sept. 7 during an announcement on the identity of the commissioner.

After spending months negotiating with opposition parties on the terms of reference of the inquiry, and in searching for a candidate accepted by all parties, Mr. Leblanc said Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue will preside over the inquiry.

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Justice Hogue will start her work on the inquiry on Sept. 18, the same day the House of Commons reconvenes. She has been given short deadlines with the requirement to submit an interim report by the end of February 2024 and a final report by December 2024.

Mr. Leblanc said that the judge has agreed with the timetable and justified the deadlines by saying the issue of foreign interference needs to be addressed promptly to reassure the public that democratic institutions are “healthy” and “resilient.”

“We’re in a minority Parliament,” he noted. The reports need to go out “as fast as possible, but it’s really to Justice Hogue to determine how she will proceed.”

Full Access

Mr. Leblanc said the commissioner will have “full access” to “all relevant cabinet documents,” as well as any other information she deems necessary. He also expects ministers to cooperate.

“I would not imagine that I or my colleagues or senior officials would want anything but to be available and forthcoming with Justice Hogue, should she decide that we can provide some relevant information,” he said.

Another public inquiry was held last year with regard to the invocation of the Emergencies Act in response to the Freedom Convoy protests. While ministers testified and the government provided documents, Commissioner Paul Rouleau noted there were shortcomings in the way the information was made available and made several recommendations related to the production of government documents.

Ms. Hogue will be tasked with looking into foreign interference by China, Russia, other states, and non-state actors, as well as the two past general elections. She will also examine the flow of information to senior decision-makers.

Other States

The calls for a public inquiry materialized after the publication of multiple national security leaks in the press depicting widespread interference by Beijing. The NDP had publicly called to expand the inquiry to other states like Russia.

Mr. Leblanc was asked by reporters why the scope had been expanded to other countries than China.

“China is not the only country that seeks to interfere in an inappropriate way,” said the minister, adding that the commissioner should be free to follow the evidence where it leads as she hears from intelligence agencies and witnesses.

This could also include looking at the parties’ nomination processes, Mr. Leblanc implied, saying the inquiry’s terms of reference were deliberately written to provide the commissioner such leeway.

“We want the inquiry to focus on foreign interference activities in the federal democratic institutions, and she will have all of the flexibility to examine all of these issues and make whatever recommendations she thinks is appropriate,” he said.

The minister stressed that every word from the terms of reference establishing the inquiry is being supported by the political parties involved.

National Security Experience

Mr. Leblanc confirmed that Justice Hogue doesn’t have national security experience, but said she has all the “necessary experience, credentials and judgment to lead this important work.”

He added that some of Canada’s most senior jurists have told the government that having no experience in this field could allow Justice Hogue to look at the issue with a “fresh set of eyes.”

The appointment of a commissioner and the launch of a public inquiry come after the Liberal government instead opted to appoint former governor general David Johnston as special rapporteur last March.

Mr. Johnston’s impartiality was criticized due to his links with the Trudeau family and he recommended against holding an inquiry in submitting his first report in May. He then resigned in June under pressure from the opposition parties who passed a motion asking him to step down.

Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre welcomed the launch of the inquiry in a statement while taking credit for successfully putting pressure on the Liberals.

“None of this would have happened had Conservatives not pushed the government and fought the attempted Liberal coverup every step of the way,” he said.

“While we accept the terms of reference and Commissioner for this inquiry, we will not hesitate to call them out again if this process doesn’t deliver real answers for Canadians.”

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