Former governor general and special rapporteur David Johnston defended his decision against initiating a public inquiry into foreign interference in Canadian politics.
The move has drawn criticism from opposition parties, including Member of Parliament John Nater from Perth-Wellington, who expressed disappointment and stressed the need for answers to address the numerous allegations.
Expressing his frustration with the handling of the matter by the Prime Minister, Nater criticized the lack of transparency and deflection of responsibility, saying "I'm exceptionally angry and upset with how the Prime Minister has handled this. He has deflected, pushed things to the side, and failed to be transparent with parliamentarians, and with Canadians. Frustrating and angering to Canadians across the country."
"It's unfortunate. Canadians, the House of Commons, and the Procedures of the House Affairs Committee have advocated for a public inquiry. We need answers, as there's so many allegations that haven't been addressed. We need an inquiry led by an independent judicial officer. Unfortunate that wasn't the proposal made" Nater added.
Highlighting the impact on individuals like Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong, Nater emphasized the importance of advocating for human rights and protecting those who may not have the ability to address issues at the national level. He stated, "When we're fighting for these rights, we're also fighting for these people that may not have the ability to take charge at the national level."
Nater further raised concerns about the breakdown in the intelligence sharing system, questioning what intelligence was gathered, when, who received it, and where the breakdowns occurred. He noted allegations that certain ministers did not have access to specific email accounts to receive intelligence and suggested a lack of timely information sharing.
Nater used the case of Chong as an example of someone who was targeted for two years without being aware of it, illustrating the need for change in addressing such situations.
Nater says that the Procedure and House Affairs Committee will continue studying the issue, with an emergency meeting scheduled for Thursday, May 25. He hoped to call David Johnston before the committee, as well as different ministers, CSIS officials, and foreign affairs officials, to push for answers. Nater acknowledged the limitations in sharing certain information for security reasons but emphasized the importance of an independent judicial inquiry that could provide reassurance to Canadians ahead of the upcoming election.
In his report, Johnston explained that a public inquiry would not be effective due to the sensitive and classified nature of the information involved. He highlighted the risks associated with disclosing classified intelligence publicly, even if redacted.
Johnston acknowledged the challenge of balancing transparency with the need to protect classified intelligence and suggested reevaluating the classification process and communication of foreign interference issues with the public. He also discouraged leaks of classified information, stating that encouraging such actions would undermine the security apparatus and should be addressed through democratic institutions.
Despite the decision against a public inquiry, Johnston assured that the challenges in managing foreign influence would be addressed through public hearings in the next five months, with the goal of making recommendations for improving the system.