Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to be clear up front that I am not in a position to comment on the accuracy of the information in the Globe and Mail article referenced in the motion passed by the committee on February 21, as this information has not been shared with me, before or since.
While I urge you to consider the article with some caution, it raises issues that are extremely concerning for our democracy and for our sovereignty.
Foreign interference is not a partisan issue. It can target elected officials and members of all levels of government, from any party.
Canadians have a right to know that our institutions have clear mandates, that they have the tools to pursue those mandates, that there are mechanisms for collaboration and sharing information where appropriate, and that the laws are adequate. Canadians also have a right to know that every effort is deployed to tackle the threat of foreign interference. I would add in that regard that I commend the work of this committee. While it is not possible to draw a straight line between foreign influence and the outcome of a particular election, acts of foreign interference attack the fairness of the electoral process and must be addressed to protect our democracy.
When I appeared on November 1, I spoke of the importance of a whole-of-government approach. I would add that political parties, electoral district associations and local campaigns also have crucial roles to play. Foreign interference is conducted through a range of tactics, and countering those tactics requires an array of measures, both legislative and non-legislative.
Several suggestions have been made within and outside of this committee. None of them, including recommendations that I have made, provide a full and complete answer. We cannot totally shield ourselves from foreign interference, especially in an open and free society, but we can and we must increase our resiliency.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I appreciate the invitation to appear before the committee again today.
As Commissioner of Canada Elections, I take the issue of foreign interference in our elections very seriously.
The Canada Elections Act defines the scope of my mandate and covers very specific activities related to foreign interference. This role is complementary to others who play a key role in protecting our democracy and with whom we collaborate.
Since my last appearance on November 1, additional allegations of foreign interference have circulated in the public environment and have led to complaints to my office.
I am seized with the importance of this issue, as well as the need to reassure Canadians under these exceptional circumstances.
I would therefore like to inform you that we have conducted a rigorous and thorough review of every piece of information that is been brought to our attention concerning allegations of foreign interference in both the 2019 and 2021 general elections.
I can also confirm that, as I speak, this review is ongoing to determine whether there is any tangible evidence of wrongdoing under the Canada Elections Act. This work is being conducted impartially and independently from the government of the day, the public service and even the Chief Electoral Officer.
I know that the outcome of this work will allow me to determine whether the allegations have merit under our act. This will not permit me to draw conclusions about the validity of election results overall or in a particular riding.
For reasons of confidentiality, I will not be able to provide further details regarding the ongoing review, complaints or any other information received by my office. As it is with any investigative body, confidentiality is essential to protect the presumption of innocence and, of course, to avoid compromising the integrity of our work. I would, however, invite anyone who has tangible information about potential wrongdoing under the Canada Elections Act, including any attempts at foreign interference in a federal election, to contact my office.
I would be pleased to answer your questions.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Mr. Perrault and Ms. Simard, thank you for the non-partisan work you do every day to protect democracy. I'm grateful for that. It's a heavy burden, but your work is important.
I know you can't take a position on this, but former Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley also called for a public inquiry into foreign interference by China or Russia. That is significant. I know you can't comment on it, but I feel we're moving towards a public inquiry. In fact, the committee is going to discuss it in a few hours.
I wanted to start off by asking questions around the nomination process.
It is true that Elections Canada does not interfere with the nominations process, but every candidate for nomination does have to file expense claims and file a full and comprehensive review of the contributions they've received. In that case, for a nomination, if, for example, a bus was rented to transport people to a nomination meeting, should that have been included in the nomination expense declaration?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Members of the committee, thank you very much for welcoming us this morning.
I would like to thank you for inviting CSIS and our colleagues to appear on foreign interference threats to Canada's democratic institutions.
CSIS continues to view hostile activities by foreign-state actors as the most significant threat to Canada's national security community. Foreign interference, in our democratic institutions in particular, undermines Canadian society. Foreign-state actors who engage in these deceptive, covert and hostile activities seek to weaken trust in our fundamental institutions and processes, threaten communities, sow division and, ultimately, influence policy.
As a CSIS official recently told this committee, foreign interference can take multiple forms. For instance, threat actors may aggressively threaten or coerce their targets into acting in a certain way. This is unfortunately a common activity impacting Canada's diverse communities and can involve threats to them or their family outside Canada.
Threat actors may also cultivate relationships with targets to manipulate them into providing favours and valuable information, or may conduct corrupt or illicit financing activities. It is also important to note that threat actors may use others as proxies to conduct these activities on their behalf.
These are just a few of the techniques that foreign state-actors employ to influence public discourse, the behaviour of individual Canadians and even our democratic processes to their advantage.
We have also observed them deploy cyber-attacks, disinformation campaigns and espionage to these ends. Foreign interference is therefore a complex and enduring threat to Canada's sovereignty. I can assure you that CSIS takes all allegations of foreign interference very seriously and uses its authority under the CSIS Act to investigate, provide advice to government and, where appropriate, take measures to reduce the threat. Building resilience to foreign interference is one way to mitigate its corrosive effects.
CSIS has spoken publicly in a variety of forums to warn Canadians about these threats and techniques and to inform them of ways they can protect themselves. We have also provided defensive briefings to elected officials from all orders of government across Canada. Perhaps most central to these efforts is our engagement with Canadian communities. We have been clear that the principal threat to Canada comes from the People's Republic of China but, to be clear, the threat comes not from the Chinese people but rather from the Chinese Communist Party and the Government of China. Indeed, we are keenly aware that Chinese communities are often the primary victims of PRC foreign interference efforts in Canada.
Therefore, we continue to invest significant efforts in building relationships with individuals, communities and community leaders to establish and sustain trust, and to offer our support and partnership in their protection. Furthermore, these efforts are not limited to Chinese-Canadian communities.
I would like to conclude by stating that CSIS takes allegations of unauthorized release of classified information very seriously. Compromises of this kind can reveal sensitive sources, methodologies and techniques to Canada's adversaries. They are listening. This can subsequently threaten the integrity of our operations and even the physical safety and security of human sources and employees. Ultimately such releases can hinder our ability to protect Canadians. Therefore, I would like to remind the committee that, just as with other recent appearances in front of PROC and other committees here, we are limited in what we can say in an unclassified setting. CSIS cannot publicly comment and in fact is prohibited from publicly commenting on operational matters and classified information in order to protect the safety and security of Canadians. Nonetheless, I welcome this opportunity for a frank and transparent discussion, to the extent possible, on the foreign interference threats that Canada faces.
We'd be happy to answer your questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and good morning, everyone.
I am pleased to appear before this committee to discuss foreign election Interference. I am joined today by a fellow member of the panel that stands at the heart of Canada’s critical election incident public protocol, Mr. Rob Stewart, deputy minister of international trade and previously deputy minister of public safety.
I thank the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for looking into the issue of foreign electoral interference. Ensuring that we defend Canada’s federal elections against electoral interference is a critical part of keeping Canada’s democratic processes legitimate, credible and trustworthy.
Madam Chair, the critical election incident public protocol was created ahead of the 2019 general election as part of the plan to protect Canada’s democracy, which put in place a number of measures to safeguard Canada's democratic institutions and processes, including our elections.
The plan is a whole-of-government effort based on four pillars, which are enhancing citizen preparedness, improving organization readiness, combatting foreign interference and ensuring a healthy information ecosystem.
The protocol lays out a simple, clear and impartial process by which Canadians would be notified of a threat to the integrity of a general election during the caretaker period, whether national or in one or more individual ridings. The government created a panel so that there would be clear, non-partisan oversight of the election as well as a clear process for informing Canadians about any incident or incidents that could impair our ability to have a free and fair election. The decision to make such an announcement must be agreed on by all panel members, that is, by consensus.
The panel members are responsible for determining whether the threshold for informing Canadians of a threat to the integrity of a general election has been met. That threshold is high and limited to exceptional circumstances that could impair Canadians’ ability to have a free and fair election, whether due to a single incident or an accumulation of incidents.
The incidents in question would need to pose a significant risk of undermining Canadians’ democratic rights, or have the potential to undermine the credibility of the election.
It is important to note that an announcement by the panel is a last resort. There are other actors in the ecosystem that may also speak up before an incident meets the threshold for an announcement by the panel. For example, the media could be in a position to call out disinformation, or a candidate themselves may step in to provide correct information. Civil society also plays a key role in fact-checking and correcting false narratives.
The mandate of the protocol is limited. It is initiated only to respond to incidents that occur within the caretaker period and that do not fall within Elections Canada’s areas of responsibility, as identified in the Canada Elections Act.
At the centre of the protocol are the panel members who bring different perspectives to the decision-making table based on experiences working in national security, foreign affairs and democratic governance, and based on a deep understanding of the democratic rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
During the 2019 and 2021 elections, members of the panel received regular and frequent security briefings from the security and intelligence threats to elections task force, known as SITE, including a daily sitrep update note during the election period. As you know, SITE is comprised of CSIS, CSE, the RCMP and Global Affairs Canada. Officials from each of these organizations have appeared before you.
Moreover, the cabinet directive on the protocol states very clearly that whenever national security agencies become aware of interference they must consider all options to effectively address the interference.
As part of this process, they inform the panel, but in addition to that, barring any overriding national or public security reasons, the agencies may also directly inform the affected party of the incident. As the committee is aware, there is always a baseline threat of foreign interference. However, the two most recent panels did not see activity that met the threshold related to those elections. Here I would refer you to my own testimony when I last appeared before you, on December 13 of last year, when I spoke of the baseline threat but stated that I was not aware of any spike in foreign interference during the 2019 or 2021 elections. That remains the case today.
As the committee is aware, both the Judd and Rosenberg reports validated that the threshold used by the panel is appropriately high and that the panel is intended to be used as a last resort.
Before concluding, Madam Chair, allow me to speak as a former acting national security and intelligence adviser, a role I performed during the latter half of 2021, including throughout the electoral period, before Jody Thomas assumed the position in early 2022.
Like Ms. Thomas, I will not be commenting on any individual media reports, but I wish to acknowledge—as members of the committee are well aware—that there is an active debate going on right now about how reputable media organizations could be reporting that highly classified intelligence documents describe how a foreign power did this or that to influence the most recent Canadian elections, including by engaging in patently illegal activity, such as funnelling money to candidates. How could that be going on while, at the same time, others, including me, maintain there was no foreign interference detected in 2019 or 2021 that threatened Canada's ability to have a free and fair election nationally or at the level of individual ridings? How can these two sides of this ongoing debate be reconciled?
I believe much of the answer lies in the questions recently addressed on social media by professor Stephanie Carvin of Carleton University. These same questions form the crux of a recent interview given by former clerk of the Privy Council Ian Shugart, who, as you know, was a member of this panel in 2019.
The key questions are these: What is intelligence, and how is it used? Without repeating all the points made by Dr. Carvin and Mr. Shugart, let me simply say that intelligence rarely paints a full, concrete or actionable picture. Intelligence almost always comes heavily caveated and qualified in ways designed to caution consumers such as me from jumping to conclusions, while at the same time helping us at least to gain a little more awareness.
An example would be a report based on “an uncorroborated source of unknown reliability”. In layman's terms, I would call this a report based on rumour. Now I, for one, am very glad we live in a country where even information of unknown reliability is passed up the chain, because that allows people like me, daily consumers of intelligence, to begin to form a picture of what might be going on and the steps that might need to be taken if the information turns out to be accurate or part of a larger pattern. However, let me say that it is extremely rare to come across an intel report that is concrete enough to constitute a smoking gun. Intelligence is much more a game of disparate pieces of information, many of which don't seem to fit together, at least initially.
Keep in mind that people doing nefarious things don't want us to know about those things. It is often only after one reads the full body of intelligence over time that one can approximate an actual picture of what might be happening and why. There are glaring historical examples, Madam Chair, even when that picture finally emerges, of the intel's being just plainly wrong. The war in Iraq comes to mind.
In this context, I would make one final point. Intel that gets leaked and is then taken out of context—for example, a report from a single uncorroborated source.... If that report instantly becomes taken as fact, this can actually be prejudicial to Canada's national security. I believe Jody Thomas tried to make this point yesterday. There is nothing our adversaries would like more than to divide Canadians and have us call into question the very institutions that keep us safe and free, including our electoral processes. We must take all suggestions of foreign interference seriously, even where we have only partial or dubious information. Let me assure you that we do just that. However, the larger point is that intelligence needs to be seen for what it is and what it is not, and if that doesn't happen, we will all end up much worse off.
I want to quote something from Ian Shugart, whom you mentioned in your opening remarks, Mr. Morrison. Recently, Ian Shugart, former clerk of the privy council and member of the panel in 2019, was on CBC and said this: “Yes, we would have been prepared to intervene and to go public and alert the public of a situation, had it arisen, even on the basis of one or two ridings or if something had been national in its scope. It would have depended on the nature of the intervention.
“But we need to understand that often intelligence information is partial, and it is incomplete in the sense that you have indications of interest, but it stops well short of having any effect. Do you intervene because the other side is interested and even that the other side may be at work? No, you don't, necessarily, because you may simply want to gather more evidence, or you might not have evidence that is clear enough about what their intentions are.
“So the intelligence agencies watch, and they pay attention, and they continue to gather information, but we on the panel at no point in the 2019 election were presented with information that said, 'This has the potential to distort things in such a way that the outcome of the election, either locally or nationally, could be affected.' Our mandate, our remit, would have allowed us to do interventions on either scale—either local or national.”
Mr. Morrison, given your opening remarks I think you've already made some comments in relation to the partial nature of intelligence being pieces that we're putting together to approximate some conclusions. Do you want to react to or comment on Mr. Shugart's statement?
It's a very important question. It is one that was addressed by Ian Shugart, a member of the 2019 panel, in his remarks, which I think have already been referenced today.
The threshold exists at the national level and it also exists at the level of individual ridings, because as it has just been pointed out, mathematically, an individual riding or handful of ridings could be material nationally.
Let me say, as Mr. Shugart has said before me, that the context within which allegations are made or interference is examined is very important, and the threshold for the panel to act is very high. Both the Judd report on the 2019 election and the Rosenberg report on the 2021 election affirmed that the high threshold is appropriate, given the remit of the panel.
I would also say, as I tried to say in my remarks, that the panel is but one mechanism, and it is designed as a mechanism of last resort. If there are things going on at the riding level or at the national level, there are others that can also call them out, including the parties or the candidates.
The answer to the question is yes. It's equally operative at the level of individual ridings.
Once again, this is a very important question.
My intent in using the example of what happened in Iraq was to suggest that even when there is a consensus view within an intel community, that view can sometimes be wrong, so I think it is entirely appropriate within our system, and within all pluralistic systems, to welcome a range of views on any one subject, particularly something as threatening as foreign interference.
There is absolutely no intention on my part to question the expertise, the authority and the judgment of our security agencies on questions of foreign interference, but equally, for all the reasons that I have tried to set out here today, that is but one stream of information that goes into the policy-making process.
Intelligence is not truth, and it is often inaccurate, or partial, or incomplete, or in fact designed to throw us off our track, and therefore I believe it is.... There are no tensions between Global Affairs Canada and CSIS. We do have healthy debates, as Canada would expect, when the stakes are so high on something like foreign interference, and I would expect that there are healthy debates within CSIS as well, because of the picture I've tried to paint on what intelligence is and what intelligence is not.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
We in the NDP believe that we need to have, urgently, a national public inquiry on the issue of foreign interference. We've certainly seen the examples: the allegations from China and the allegations from Russia. There is no doubt that we need to clear the air on a number of issues.
I wanted to put that forward in the context of your reply, Mr. Stewart—and I believe, Mr. Morrison, that you contributed as well—around the threshold at the riding level. Your comment was that the political parties as well can step up on this, but if the candidates are not aware, if the threshold is different in informing the candidates, then it's very difficult, I think, for political parties to intervene in the case where foreign interference may make a difference in a riding.
How do you reconcile that issue of, understandably, not acting with information that is not necessarily complete, but at the same time, non-action or non-information could mean a difference in a riding? I'm thinking particularly of an upcoming election campaign.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
First of all, Mr. Morrison, I want to apologize for what you've been subject to today, particularly in the last few rants.
I can tell you—somebody who occupies himself completely and entirely with the running of an election during a writ period—that it gives me great comfort to know there are people like you who are watching over the democratic process in our country during those times, and I mean that genuinely. We don't have time for that, and the government doesn't have time for that. The most ideal time for a foreign influencer to act upon our democracy would be then, and knowing that there's a panel in place to safeguard that, and act where appropriate, is truly valued by many members of Parliament—I would say a vast majority—despite the way you've been treated today in terms of identifying the quality of your work.
Mr. Morrison, I want to go back to something you said. I reviewed it, and you said:
intelligence rarely paints a full, concrete or actionable picture. Intelligence almost always comes heavily caveated and qualified in ways designed to caution consumers such as me from jumping to conclusions, while at the same time helping us at least to gain a little more awareness.
An example would be a report based on “an uncorroborated source of unknown reliability”. In layman's terms, I would call this a report based on rumour.
What you're basically saying, if I understand you correctly, is that you have multiple reports of intelligence coming across your desk. Some of them could turn out to be quite legitimate and verified based on how you assess the variables and the caveats that go into that, but some of them could be complete nonsense, unreliable and baseless. Is that correct?
First, Madam Chair, the screen keeps flickering in and out. Perhaps there is a way to fix that.
Yes, Madam Chair, I would concur that a point of order is to address a point about the manner in which the meeting has been conducted, not to enter into a debate about something one wishes they had had the opportunity to speak to.
In terms of a point of order, last night there was a motion on the table. There was a motion to adjourn, and then the committee adjourned. Whenever the committee restarts after that, the motion that had previously been debated is not subject to be initiated again. The mover of the motion has to move the motion again at their own discretion and when they decide to.
Mr. Cooper clearly heard Mr. Julian say earlier on that he was going to move a motion, so rather than following the normal customary practice of allowing the witnesses to leave before getting into committee business, Mr. Cooper tried to seize on an opportunity to circumvent the fact that he knew Mr. Julian was going to do that.
In terms of a point of order, there is no motion that is on the floor right now because we adjourned last night, and now we are at a starting point again, and I think it is incumbent upon you to respect the rules and to allow Mr. Julian to go first.
On a point of order, Madam Chair, I just emphasize that after six hours of work yesterday we came this close to dealing with the motion that had been on notice in advance, in priority of Mr. Julian's.
Now, we can do what is reasonable and try to deal with the business of yesterday that was interrupted by Mr. Julian last night and dispense with it with a vote on my subamendment, get to Mr. Julian's amendment, get to my main motion, and then take up Mr. Julian's motion.
It's perfectly reasonable, after all, if Mr. Julian is sincere that he wants Katie Telford to appear before this committee. Then I would submit that he would very much welcome dealing with my very minor subamendment, letting the committee vote on it and then take up his amendment.
What I proposed in my subamendment is setting up a panel with the chiefs of staff, the national campaign directors of all the parties. The only chief of staff who wouldn't be present would be Ms. Telford. If it doesn't pass, it doesn't pass.
I'm not trying to tie this committee up. I would like to deal with Mr. Julian's motion that is on notice today, but in order to do so, I think it's only reasonable, having regard for the amount of time and debate that went into the motion yesterday, that we, as expeditiously as possible—
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'm going to read into the record the notice of motion that I provided yesterday morning. It was distributed Tuesday afternoon to committee, and of course I also gave notice this morning that it would be moved immediately following our witnesses. Therefore, there's been ample notice for all parties to know what is coming forward, when it is coming forward, and how I'm moving it.
I will now read the motion into the record. Then I will have some comments afterward, Madam Chair.
That the committee report to the House that it calls on the Government of Canada to launch a national public inquiry into allegations of foreign interference in Canada's democratic system, including but not limited to allegations of interference in general elections by foreign governments;
That this inquiry be granted all necessary powers to call witnesses from the government and from political parties, including but not limited to Ministers, former Ministers, chiefs of staff to the Prime Minister and to the Leader of the Official Opposition during the 2019 and 2021 federal election campaigns and national campaign directors for the 2019 and 2021 federal election campaigns of the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada;
And that this inquiry have to power to order and review all documents it deems necessary for this work, including documents which are related to national security.
I'm glad to have finally been able to move this after two days and after an hour of procedural circus.
Madam Chair, I'd like to start off by saying I think Mr. Cooper has made the case for this national public inquiry through his own actions, because this was a circus both last night and today. It clearly indicates that what we need is a non-partisan national public inquiry to get answers for Canadians. What answers do we need? Well, certainly, I think there have been disturbing allegations that have come out of news reports published by Robert Fife and Steven Chase in The Globe and Mail and by Sam Cooper for Global News. Those allegations, as I mentioned earlier today, could possibly involve violations of the Canada Elections Act. They are very serious allegations.
I would have to profoundly disagree with the 's statement that he doesn't believe a national public inquiry is warranted. The member for Burnaby South, , raised this on Sunday, as you know. We've had other political parties subsequently weigh in. It should be a matter of consensus that this committee direct the House that a national public inquiry is the best method to ensure that Canadians get answers.
Some might say, “Well, let's just limit it to the influence that Beijing has had in elections.” I'd like to remind committee members about the testimony we have heard—and I'll quote from November 3, 2022—in which a witness said the following:
Russian information and influence operations are persistent and they are growing. They do not turn on and off with election cycles and have intensified during the course of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
He went on:
Russia's primary and full-time focus is to undermine and destabilize our democracy by exploiting the most polarizing issues of the day.
These attacks affect our political environment and choices every day, not just during election periods.
There are allegations that interference by Beijing may have touched up to 11 candidates. Those allegations need to be investigated through a national public inquiry.
Ongoing concerns have been raised about Russia, not just in the articles published by the National Observer but also, as I mentioned yesterday, by the University of Calgary School of Public Policy, which very clearly indicated in its research that Russian state agents were involved in disinformation, and, of course, by witnesses who have come to our committee.
Does that exclude other foreign governments or state actors? Obviously it does not. That's why I believe we should include the allegations of foreign interference in Canada's democratic system as part of this national public inquiry and not limit it to any one of the foreign powers that are potentially interfering in our democracy and potentially interfering in our general elections.
Who should be called? We're providing some direction in that regard, but clearly the allegations so far have indicated connection to both the Liberal Party campaign and the Conservative Party campaign, and we believe that direction is something that should be provided as part of the national public inquiry.
Do we believe people should be taken off the street and other names should be mentioned? Clearly we do not, although the national public inquiry does have the ability to look where it needs to in terms of witness testimony, so this is not a restrictive list at all. However, it is also important that the national public inquiry have the power to order and review all documents, and that includes documents related to national security.
This is an issue that Canadians are concerned about. This is an issue we need to take a position on. That is why I'm putting forward this motion, and hopefully we'll have the consensus to move it through to the House and to say to the government that this is something that needs to be acted on within the framework of a non-partisan and independent national public inquiry.
In light of the many serious allegations of interference by China and Russia, which could also include violations of the Canada Elections Act, it seems important, as stated so well last Sunday, that we have a national public and non-partisan inquiry. We saw a little earlier how partisanship can lead to a circus atmosphere rather than to a valid and important inquiry.
We are therefore simply requesting that our committee present a report to the House and that it then call on the government to launch a national public inquiry. The has said that we don't need one, but I personally believe that it is very important to have one so Canadians can get all answers they need.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair, as I was saying, there's no question that there are other foreign state bad actors—including Russia, which Mr. Julian has cited—and that we need to take those threats seriously, but at the same time, the biggest threat posed to Canada by any state is that of the Beijing Communist regime. That has been made clear by our security and intelligence agencies. It's what we heard this morning from CSIS.
Moreover, there have been alarming reports of a sophisticated and vast campaign of interference in our elections in 2019 and 2021, based upon a review of CSIS documents by reputable journalists. Although that interference in no way impacted the overall result of either the 2019 or 2021 election, it did have, or may have had, an impact in certain ridings.
If even one riding is impacted, that's something that should be of grave concern for all Canadians who care about protecting our democracy and our democratic institutions. It should be Canadians and Canadians alone who decide elections, both overall election outcomes and outcomes in ridings, and not hostile foreign state actors.
In the face of that, what I believe is appropriate to get to the bottom of this interference by way of an inquiry is an inquiry that is targeted and focused and that can produce a report in the near future. I would hope that this would be before the next election, which could happen at any time. It would not be desirable to have an inquiry that was expansive and that did not provide a report until perhaps a year or two years down the road. We need answers and we need answers now. That is why a targeted, narrow inquiry makes sense and deals with these very specific allegations and revelations that have been brought forward.
The other aspect of this amendment is to ensure that , the Prime Minister, doesn't get to decide unilaterally who the commissioner is. We all really—
Thank you, Madam Chair.
We don't believe that it's appropriate that , the Prime Minister, should decide unilaterally who heads this inquiry. The Prime Minister has a conflict. He has a conflict to the degree that serious allegations were made in a Global News report last week that several of the Prime Minister's senior aides were briefed by CSIS in 2019 that a Liberal candidate and now sitting MP had the assistance of Beijing's Toronto consulate in his nomination campaign and that they turned a blind eye. They did nothing about that in the face of those warnings from CSIS. We have also seen no answer from the on the veracity of those reports. He has refused to answer basic questions, including whether he had been briefed.
Needless to say, the Prime Minister's office is involved in matters that go to the heart of what this inquiry is about, and the heart of the matter is about what the knew, when he knew it and what he did or did not do about Beijing's interference in our elections. In order for there to be confidence in such an inquiry, it needs to be not only an impartial and fair process; it needs to be seen as such. This amendment to Mr. Julian's motion would do just that. It would provide an opportunity for all of the House leaders of all of the recognized parties to reach agreement unanimously as to the individual who should head the inquiry.
While this inquiry is important, it is also important to recognize that much of the work of the commissioner and the panel members may be in a venue that is not open, that is not before the public, having regard for classified documents and other information that might be subject to the review of the inquiry. Given the very serious allegations that have been made, given the almost daily reports of some new aspect, some new issue, some new scandal involving election interference by Beijing in the 2019 and 2021 elections, it's not enough to simply say that we should let the inquiry do its work behind closed doors and at the end of it issue a heavily redacted report.
Again, we welcome an inquiry, but we don't welcome it as a substitute or a replacement for the work that this committee is doing to undertake a study of election foreign interference and the work that we have been tasked to undertake specifically with respect to interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections by Beijing.
The advice of CSIS in respect to the manner in which foreign interference should be responded to is based upon sunlight and transparency. It is that the interference should be made known to the public, and this committee provides a forum for there to be sunshine and transparency now and to get answers now, although we might not be able to get all the answers. That's why I support the objective of Mr. Julian's motion, which is to establish an inquiry.
It would not be, I believe, in the interests of getting to the truth and getting to the bottom of this to simply shut down the work of this committee. We need to continue to do our work. We need to continue to hear from witnesses and we need to continue to insist on the production of documents. There are lots of witnesses we need to hear from, including Katie Telford, the chief of staff. The Prime Minister said that when you're talking to Katie Telford, it's like talking to him. She is a key witness in getting to the bottom of the central issue at hand, which is what the Prime Minister knew, when he knew it and what he did or didn't do in respect to Beijing's interference in our election.
Given that, I think this would strike the right balance with the openness and transparency of this committee to be able to move forward today, next week and in the weeks to come as we learn more about this very serious interference, which the , up until now, has been anything but transparent about, as he seeks to deflect and block and cover up his inaction based on everything that has been made available up until now.
I will probably have other comments to make, but I will leave it at that for now. I'm hopeful that this amendment will be well received and will be adopted.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
What did know and when did he know it? What did Prime Minister Justin Trudeau do, or rather, what did he not do, when he learned about the many allegations of interference by China in Canada's democratic process? That is the basic question that requires a public inquiry. In fact, yesterday the said as much.
Why? Because, as the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau is ultimately responsible to Canadians for all matters relating to national security and the respect of our democratic process. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the Prime Minister was briefed several times on foreign election interference by the Chinese communist regime, as we learned and as witnesses in the know and who were involved have confirmed, never once did the Prime Minister's Office feel it was necessary to share its concerns with the RCMP or CSIS. It was as if there was nothing unusual going on.
I would like to remind you that these are indeed serious allegations. There's talk of a clandestine network of 11 candidates who received financial support from the Chinese regime. There's talk of so-called volunteers who in actual fact were not volunteers and who were subsidized by people close to the Chinese regime to help candidates during the election campaign. There's talk of orchestrated campaigns to help elect a minority liberal government and defeat certain Conservative candidates.
Not a day goes by without new information appearing in the news or on social media about interference by the Chinese regime in our democratic process.
Today we learned that the amount of information and evidence needed to brief candidates on election interference by the Chinese regime was so significant that it was unlikely the threshold would ever be met.
Yet, the first thing the said in his defence was that all of the information was given to the panel charged with determining whether the election had been undermined by foreign interference, and that the panel had determined that there was no foreign election interference, and that the process unfolded as it should have. That's a fact: this is what we have heard from the Prime Minister from the outset. Incidentally, the Prime Minister himself struck the panel. That can mean many things and raises too many questions.
That is why my colleague's amendment is very relevant. You can't just let the government decide who will conduct the public inquiry, since the government is led by the , who is himself directly implicated in the many allegations reported by media, be it Global News or The Globe and Mail, other media or reporters' news feeds.
As well, we need to absolutely ensure that the public inquiry is done responsibly, of course, and that it focuses on all political parties. This is where I'd like to reach out to my NDP colleague, who pleaded for consensus and unanimity at the start of his presentation. The NDP said that the inquiry must absolutely be non-partisan, that we must absolutely be on the same page and send a unanimous message to the House of Commons and to the government that we are calling for an inquiry that is in line with what we are asking for. In its motion, however, the NDP is forgetting its own party. It doesn't want to hear from anyone from the NDP. It doesn't want the national inquiry to hear from people from the NDP.
Okay, I will continue then.
Mr. Julian, if you are so convinced of what you are saying, you should find our proposal completely legitimate. You should not have any fear that a national commission of inquiry might also be interested in all the political parties. If we adopt the motion as presented today and it is supported by the majority of leaders in the House, we will then let the person chosen as commissioner decide what is appropriate in this situation. I think the investigation itself will show the same thing as what you are saying, Mr. Julian.
A lot has been left unsaid about what could or could not be made public. Sometimes what is unsaid is more important that what is said. If this inquiry is conducted behind closed doors and we are unfortunately unable to obtain information, that would seriously undermine the process of getting to the bottom of foreign interference by China. That is why the committee must definitely continue its study of foreign interference in the electoral process, concurrently with the public inquiry. We must also insist on our request to obtain certain documents. That is how we can get to the bottom of things.
In closing, I reiterate that we must focus on the role of the Chinese regime in the 2019 and 2021 elections. That way, our report will not cover too long a period of time and it will not be too watered down by an overabundance of information.
The allegations are clear, straightforward and specific: the Chinese communist regime devised a system to influence the election results in certain ridings in Canada and to change people's voting intentions. All kinds of methods and techniques were used to do this, ranging from intimidation to fear. That should not happen in Canada or in any other democracy.
That is why we must absolutely focus on these allegations, which have also been highlighted in various articles. We have seen many revelations in this regard in recent weeks.
We must also remember that the diaspora groups that are targeted by hostile foreign governments are the first victims in all of this. They are the first victims since their right to vote freely in our country has been restricted. For the sake of those people, we need to get to the bottom of this and get the full story on China's interference in our democratic process.
I appeal to all my colleagues to adopt our amendments, especially to my colleague from the NDP. Our amendments are simple and will enable us to achieve the same goal, namely, to get to the bottom of foreign interference. I hope my colleague will agree so that the opposition parties can speak unanimously. I remind you that the same thing could happen again in a future election, which could very well be sooner than we might expect since we have a minority government.
Madam Chair, thank you for the opportunity to speak to this amendment to Mr. Julian's motion.
Let me say first that I am still undecided about the main motion. I think it has some merits. It is indeed important to understand that foreign interference is not limited to a single country, as the witnesses who appeared yesterday and today have told us. Three or four countries in particular were mentioned. When we asked them to indicate the number of countries interfering in Canada, the witnesses were not prepared to limit it to four countries. So this is a strong feature of Mr. Julian's proposal.
His motion also has certain weaknesses, however. One of them is that a national public inquiry would be subject to the same limitations we are facing today. The issue is what kind of information can be disclosed to the general public without jeopardizing our ties with our allies' intelligence services, without jeopardizing the methods our services use to counter interference by other countries, and without risking the very lives of our agents in the field.
So the motion includes some important features which we can perhaps agree on. We have to find a non-partisan way to investigate this important matter, and I congratulate my colleague in that regard once again. Unfortunately, the MPs from a particular party have not yet shown that they are able to resist the temptation to engage in partisanship. I come to this sad conclusion because this amendment is intended to greatly reduce the scope of Mr. Julian's motion, without taking into account the evidence we have heard. As I said at the outset, this is regrettable.
As to Mr. Cooper's proposal, he is playing political games and targeting Ms. Telford in particular. In my opinion, that does not help matters at all.
Further, it is limited to two elections, when we know very well that this has been going on for longer that those two elections, as the evidence has shown.
Finally, based on what I have seen in more than the past 24 hours that we have been in committee and discussing these matters, I am afraid that the official opposition would exercise a veto in the selection of the person chairing the commission of inquiry. Perhaps the opposition MPs will prove me wrong, and I would be pleased if they do.
So I will definitely vote against your amendment because, for the reasons I have just mentioned, it would completely change the main motion.
I look forward to hearing what my colleagues have to say about the main motion. Perhaps they will make proposals that would improve the main motion.
I will stop here.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I will get to my point.
We've heard multiple people who are experts in their field—whether it be the national security and intelligence officer, SITE, the director of CSIS today, the CSE or the RCMP—very clearly state that there would be no difference in the access to information that a public inquiry would have compared to what this committee would have.
The reason I'm bringing this up is in reference to the production of documents and calling of witnesses. For the purpose of national security, we cannot have information out there in a public forum that would have a direct impact on our Five Eyes intelligence partners. The impact of that, as we heard in the last panel, would be devastating, not only in terms of our alliance and our partnerships but also in terms of the intelligence assets that we have around the world, including Canadian Armed Forces members.
I know very well that Saint‑Jean Garrison and Saint‑Jean Royal Military College are in Ms. Normandin's riding, and I am sure she does not want to jeopardize the health and safety of members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
I'm strictly against the fact that we keep having a conversation about our not wanting to provide this information. We cannot. This is not partisan. We cannot have this kind of information in the public domain. We can keep putting it out there to pretend and wave it around that we should get unredacted documents when we know full well that we cannot. Rather than playing games with respect to our national security, is there not another venue that has the proper clearance to look at that, whether it be NSICOP or something else?
This is the big beef that I'm having with this conversation. I'm not making this up. This is being told to us by the experts. We cannot have this information out there.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I will try to be brief. We have spent a lot of time together. It's not that I do not enjoy my colleagues' company, but I am sure they want to deal with this matter effectively as much as I do.
Regarding the proposed amendment, I will propose subamendments starting with the end of the amendment. Then I will call upon our clerk on a procedural matter, but that will be later on. There is no stress, no rush.
The end of the amendment suggests that holding an independent public inquiry, as the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Conservative Party want, would not affect a study being conducted by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I think they should be conducted concurrently, as was the case with the Rouleau Commission. The joint parliamentary committee continued its work while the Rouleau Commission was ongoing. Each body might have different mandates, raise different questions, and make different recommendations. I think that is entirely appropriate. One does not prevent the other from existing.
As to the appointment of the person heading up the independent public inquiry, the Bloc Québécois has also insisted from the outset that all parties must agree upon the person selected. I completely agree with that part of the amendment. I would even say that is the most important part of the amendment. If we want to restore voters' confidence in their democratic institutions, it is absolutely essential to ensure from the outset that the person conducting the inquiry has credibility. I fully support that proposal.
It is also proposed that the inquiry also look into hostile foreign governments that violate the rights of diaspora groups. Something was just mentioned that I would like to see included in an independent public inquiry, without limiting the commissioner's mandate. I think this is relevant. We can easily stipulate at the outset that there are aspects that we want included in an inquiry. Given the various information we have seen in the media, in addition to what certain witnesses have said here, it is practically stating the obvious that foreign interference is affecting members of diaspora groups here. We cannot ignore this issue in our analysis of foreign interference.
Now for the portion of the amendment that would eliminate the stipulation that the witnesses would include, but not be limited to, ministers, former ministers and so forth. I am especially in favour of the idea of stipulating that the witnesses would be from the government and all political parties. The commissioner could then call upon a wide range of individuals to appear. If we insist on the commissioner being selected essentially jointly by all the parties so that we can have confidence in him, that would also give him a broad mandate. I think this amendment addresses this desire not to tie the commissioner's hands.
Now for the first part of the amendment. That is the problem, I think. Rather than giving the commissioner the greatest latitude possible, it stipulates instead that the issue is China's interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections. I am sure that a commissioner who has the freedom to conduct an inquiry into foreign interference would examine China's interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections. I have no doubt about that. We do not need to give that direction; the commissioner would do that, because it would be dictated by current events. On the other hand, I would not want to limit a commissioner from the outset by asking him to look at foreign interference by China only, and in those two elections only.
For these reasons, I am not as favourable to the part of the amendment pertaining to the first paragraph of the initial motion. This is where I would like the clerk's opinion. Rather than table a subamendment, would it be possible to divide the amendment into two parts, and let us vote on each part separately? I would really like to vote on the first part separately, and then vote on the rest of the amendment, rather than go through successive subamendments and ultimately return to what was initially proposed.
In that case, is it the type of motion that I need to move right now, or do I move it when we are about to vote on the amendment?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I've been listening very intently to the debate on this amendment. I have a number of reflections to share. I think my colleagues have brought up some really important points.
We've heard from quite a number of witnesses that we're talking about highly sensitive intelligence information and data that go through a process of accumulation, validation and assessment. I think we've heard that it can be injurious to national security if it's disclosed. I share Ms. Romanado's position on the original motion and the amendment. The amendment keeps this section that relates to including documents that are related to national security, and I think that's problematic for a lot of reasons.
The other thing that strikes me about the public inquiry in general is that in my understanding, they take quite a long time on average. I don't know if members are comfortable with a two- to three-year process of some kind. That seems to be, in my understanding, what the standard is.
I know that recently there was an article by Wesley Wark, who recommended—in opposition to some others, who have called for a public inquiry—that it's not the best option. One reason is that it's quite lengthy. I think the other is that it encounters and runs into many of the same problems that PROC does, or other parliamentary committees do, in dealing with these highly sensitive and classified documents.
We've heard from every witness with expertise in this area that yes, we want to promote national security literacy and have more of the public be aware of the very real national security threats, which we all take seriously, but we can't do it in an irresponsible manner. We have to take these concerns about real threats and dangers in flippantly disclosing that information very seriously.
I certainly take them seriously. I think they can threaten relations with our international partners. I think they can cause harm to come to agents and others who are involved in the agencies that protect us every day. I wouldn't want to see any harm come to those individuals.
I would also say, based on my assessment of the amendment, that there seems to be quite a narrowing of what Mr. Julian had proposed. Beijing is not the only threat to our elections. We've heard that foreign interference is coming from a number of other countries. I know that our security agencies have specifically referenced, as I believe Mr. Rosenberg did in his report, Russia and Iran. I think there was some indication today with the CSIS director that there are others. If we're going to do something like this—which is important work—then there's no doubt we have to understand these threats.
Based on the facts in Mr. Rosenberg's report of all of the initiatives and things that the government has implemented since about 2018, I think our government has demonstrated very clearly that they have built up a robust ecosystem that approaches foreign election interference in a whole-of-government approach. I just don't think focusing on one set of allegations that have come through the media.... I think we've heard today that CSIS can neither confirm nor deny whether those are coming from CSIS or not.
I think it would do a disservice to the overall topic for us to narrow the scope down to focusing on one country, even though I recognize that all of our security agencies are resoundingly in agreement that Beijing presents the greatest threat. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't be preparing ourselves for others and understanding what those very real threats are.
I don't think I would support.... I'm sort of mulling this over as I read through it, but there are other aspects of this amendment that Mr. Cooper has put forward that I think narrow the scope significantly from what Mr. Julian proposed, and I'm not quite all that comfortable with them.
Referring to just the 2019 and 2021 federal elections seems to be a narrowing of the scope as well. Although Mr. Julian's original motion has reference to those two elections, it seems that it has a breadth that would include other elections as well. I think we ought to consider a timeline that goes back a little bit further than just the last two elections, although I can say with full confidence that the last two elections have had processes and many structures and mechanisms in place to protect against foreign interference. I think that this information is very clearly laid out in Morris Rosenberg's recent report, and I have an overview of it that I would like to share. Maybe I'll save that for a little bit later, but I think there's quite a lot of evidence, and I referenced this in my question to Mr. Morrison when he came before our committee today. Those are some of my comments.
There is another thing I wanted to say. I think we had this come up in our debate last night, and I find it a bit troubling. The very last section in the amendment suggests that there are numerous committees studying this topic. I think Mr. Fergus spoke to this quite eloquently, as he always does. I notice that in Mr. Cooper's amendment, what is added here at the end is that this inquiry does not impede or stop the committee's study on foreign election interference, including the production of documents and the calling of witnesses. I'm assuming that's referring to this committee. Now in this motion we want to set up another body, in a sense, or a public inquiry, and then still study it in this committee. We have numerous other committees studying this topic as well, so is Mr. Cooper's intention to have every committee in the House of Commons study this topic, or would a public inquiry, if we were to support that, which I've obviously suggested I'm not convinced is the way to go...?
The fact that these things are stuck in there made no sense to me. They're contradictory to having a more comprehensive public inquiry that would really do justice to this topic. I thought that was the initial intention of Mr. Julian at least, so that's a significant deviation as well.
For all of those reasons, I'm struggling to feel supportive of this particular amendment, although I'm considering all the arguments and points that are made by my colleagues. This is an important topic, so whatever we decide as a committee, I hope we get it right. I hope that we don't end up embroiled in these partisan quarrels and games that we seem to be playing—at least today, from what I'm seeing—and that we take this matter really seriously and take a comprehensive approach to this important topic. I hope we can find a way forward.
One other thing I wanted to bring up that I neglected to cover in my remarks just a minute ago is that I think there was, at least from the article that Wesley Wark produced.... Maybe I'll quote him instead of paraphrasing. He says:
Judicial inquiries are meant to be fact-finding exercises. The “facts” in the case of Chinese election interference are thin on the ground, subject to media interpretation, and political brinkmanship.
That's a direct quote.
For me, if a judicial inquiry is trying to find the facts—and we've heard from our intelligence experts that it actually takes expertise to interpret intelligence—are we certain that the fact-finding exercise of a public inquiry would actually be the right approach? Certainly it would depend upon who leads that process and whether they have the expertise, but from what Wesley Wark has said, he at least feels that the facts are slightly thin on the ground.
Maybe I'll wrap up there for now, but I certainly think the debate will continue. I hope we'll find some path forward that we can reach consensus on soon.
It mentions the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, so that is in fact a 70‑day period. What's more, it is limited to the Chinese regime. At the same time, however, it says that all governments should be looked at as far as diaspora groups go. What’s not clear is whether it’s just for the election periods.
The amendment is badly drafted and does not respect the principle of a national public inquiry. That is why I am against the first part of the amendment.
From what we have as a Conservative amendment, you have to ask what the Conservatives are afraid of.
I'm going to come back to all of the allegations that have come forward about Russian involvement or interference, not just in Canada but also in other jurisdictions. We're already aware of the collusion that took place in the Donald Trump example. We're already aware of the implications in Brexit, in a report that came out following the 2019 election, which also raised concerns about financing at the United Kingdom's Conservative Party.
In Canada, I think it's important to note the concerns that have been raised in the series that was produced in Canada's National Observer, which stated “In January and February of 2022, a large number of public Telegram channels were created or repurposed under the auspices of supporting the “Freedom Convoy”...including some with tens of thousands of members. [These channels] started to feature Russian propaganda intermingled with convoy-related content.
“Eventually, part of this network of Telegram channels effectively became a repository for Russian propaganda”.
The articles that came forward in that series are very disturbing, but there are more, and I could certainly spend hours reading through the concerns that have been raised.
Now I'll reference The Canadian Press. Marie Woolf, on June 8, 2022, wrote about the study that was undertaken by the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy:
An analysis of over six million tweets and retweets—and where they originate from—has found that Canada is being targeted by Russia to influence public opinion here.
The study by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy found that huge numbers of tweets and retweets about the war in Ukraine can be traced back to Russia and China, with even more tweets expressing pro-Russian sentiment traced to the United States.
Assistant professor Jean-Christophe Boucher said in an interview that the Russian “state apparatus” is associated with many accounts tweeting in Canada, and is influencing posts that are retweeted, liked or repeated by different accounts again and again.
The study found that “in 'the Canadian Twitter ecosystem' discussing the war, around 25 per cent of the accounts were spreading pro-Russian talking points. ... The analysis of the content of the tweets found similar pro-Russian views expressed among right-wing figures and their supporters in the U.S. and Canada.”
Professor Boucher said that “supporters of the 'Freedom Convoy' and anti-vaccine movement, some of whom may not realize they have been digesting messaging originating from Russia, were also tweeting messages in support of the invasion of Ukraine.”
We have heard testimony here at this committee. I will cite November 3, when Mr. Marcus Kolga said the following:
Russian information and influence operations are persistent and they are growing. They do not turn on and off with election cycles and have intensified during the course of the Russian invasion of Ukraine....
Russia's primary and full-time focus is to undermine and destabilize our democracy by exploiting the most polarizing issues of the day. ...These attacks affect our political environment and choices every day, not just during election periods.
The motion that I moved for a public inquiry, which seems to have support generally, is that we launch a national public inquiry into allegations of foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections and in Canada's democratic system, including but not limited to allegations of interference in general elections by foreign governments.
This isn't something that anyone should oppose, so it's perplexing to me that the Conservatives are trying to gut the sense of concern that many Canadians are feeling about foreign interference. I believe it's disrespectful to a million and a half Canadians of Ukrainian origin who have been subjected to these campaigns that we have been talking about. These are campaigns that have been identified, as we heard earlier today, by CSIS and other agencies. Why would the Conservatives want to strip out the possibility of a national public inquiry that includes foreign interference not just from Beijing, which I agree is important, but also Russia, Iran and other players that are hostile to Canada and to Canada's democracy?
This is where the contradiction takes place. We have this amendment that strips out the whole principal clause and limits the ability of the commissioner or commissioners to do anything beyond the allegations of foreign interference by Beijing, and only in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, which is a period, as I've mentioned, of 70 days. Then, in the same breath, the Conservatives say that the inquiry can investigate abuse of “diaspora groups by hostile foreign governments” writ large. Is it just during the 70 days? Is it for the last few years? I mean, the incomprehension of how this was drafted is unbelievable to me.
I find it disturbing that Conservatives want to play a game around something as important as a national public inquiry, but that reinforces the point I made initially: that these kinds of games and the circus that Conservatives love to engage in are not things that will give answers to Canadians. I believe Canadians from coast to coast to coast have a sincere interest in getting answers to questions and getting answers for the allegations of potential violations of the Elections Act and how serious that is. We heard from Elections Canada earlier today that if the allegations are right about Beijing's support, potentially up to half a dozen violations of the Canada Elections Act could have occurred. This is serious. These are criminal activities, criminal violations that are alleged, and obviously the national public inquiry has to go there.
With all the evidence I've just read into the record about Russia and the Putin dictatorship's attempt to have an impact on our democracy, I don't understand why the Conservatives are afraid of a public inquiry that actually examines that interference. They have these two contradictory amendments. One says, yes, go to the “diaspora groups by hostile foreign governments”—that's what the Conservatives wrote—but, oh, don't touch anything with foreign interference, aside from Beijing and aside from those very strict two 35-day election periods. It is very strange to me that they offered this amendment.
I have expressed my opposition to that amendment.
I have heard my colleagues, both Conservatives and Liberals, speak about the naming in terms of the inquiry, giving necessary powers to the inquiry and not necessarily spelling out who would be invited. I certainly would accept these as amendments. I think that would help to move us to a consensus. I do believe that we need to investigate abuse of diaspora groups, but that means the original principal clause that I moved, which is ensuring we address foreign interference by any sources in Canada's democratic systems, “including but not limited to allegations of interference in general elections by foreign governments”.
Does the inquiry have the power to order a review? Absolutely: That's a normal term of reference, and there can be provisions made for national security. I don't accept the argument that terms of reference might in some way be threatening to national security.
I also agree that having the individual or individuals heading the inquiry selected by unanimous agreement by the House leaders does make sense. We do this often, Madam Chair. We've done this for a variety of issues, most recently even in the appointment of the interim Clerk of the House of Commons.
This is something that is a regular practice. What it actually ensures is that each party has a veto, so, yes, it's true that it would mean the Conservatives might have a veto. It would also mean that the Liberals have a veto on that, and it could be somebody who is beyond reproach. I think we would find many names that we could offer—all of us—to ensure that this inquiry is done properly.
Finally, that this inquiry not stop the committee study, that's really up to the committee. I don't see the appropriateness of that. The committee can decide to continue the study or not. That depends on committee business. That's not up to any of us, Madam Chair. I don't see that as a clause that is particularly useful. It's more for cosmetic purposes.
Ultimately, what really offends me in this is that the Conservatives would seek to eliminate a proper investigation and answers to Canadians beyond that very narrow scope they want to place on this public inquiry. I am not going to vote in favour of their modifications to the first clause. I think it's disrespectful to Ukrainian Canadians and other Canadians who have been impacted by foreign interference beyond Beijing. As well, I think it circumscribes the inquiry to the point where it can't produce the answers that Canadians are looking for.
I'm surprised the Conservatives would put forward such a series of amendments, some of which contradict other amendments, at a time when we really need adults in the room working together so that, hopefully, we can produce this national public inquiry and get answers for Canadians.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I have to say it's quite rich for Mr. Julian to be talking about his great concern about foreign interference and diaspora communities being targeted.
He cited Iran. He's absolutely right that Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world. It is a major security threat, the greatest security threat to peace and stability in the Middle East. It is a regime that has extended its tentacles into Canada.
When Mr. Julian and the NDP had an opportunity to designate the IRGC as a terrorist entity, he voted against it. He voted against designating the IRGC as a terrorist entity, the same IRGC that is raising money, recruiting and intimidating Iranians on Canadian soil. They are doing it now, and they were doing it in 2018 when Mr. Julian voted against designating the IRGC as a terrorist entity.
Now he professes to be so concerned about the Iranian regime. Well, actions speak louder than words. When Mr. Julian had a chance to stand up and vote, he voted on the side of the Iranian terrorist regime. That's what he did.
Make no mistake about it. The IRGC is the enforcer of the regime. It is the arm of the regime that has exported terrorism around the world, armed other terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah, and has on its hands the blood of 55 Canadians and 30 permanent residents from when the IRGC took down PS752 in what an Ontario superior court judge determined to be an act of terrorism.
Mr. Julian, when he had a chance to do the right thing, to stand up for Iranian Canadians and to stop the IRGC from fundraising, recruiting and intimidating Canadians in the Iranian community, he stood against that. That's Mr. Julian's record. Now he turns around and talks about how concerned he is. What hypocrisy.
Mr. Julian talks about other actors, other states such as Russia. I said very clearly when I put forward my amendment that Russia is indeed a cause for concern. It is a real threat. Russia is a cause for grave concern in terms of its activities in Canada. That needs to be dealt with. It needs to be followed. It must not be ignored. I'm not suggesting anything else. It's serious.
We have before this committee a study in which we have a series of motions that have been passed to expand the study on foreign interference dealing with very specific allegations of interference by Beijing in the 2019 and 2021 elections. Iran, Russia and all of these hostile foreign bad actors, their activities are not new. Beijing's interference is not new.
At the same time, it's only now that Mr. Julian is advocating for a public inquiry on all aspects of foreign interference, which I would submit, muddies the waters in addressing the very specific allegations and revelations that have been reported in The Globe and Mail and on Global News, which have been lent support by the 's response to them, which is to deflect, deny, cover up, hide and not be transparent about what he knows.
That's what we have to get to the bottom of, and that's why, in our motion, we would amend this in a way that would allow for a targeted, focused inquiry. It wouldn't preclude other hearings. It wouldn't preclude perhaps another inquiry at some later point. However, if this inquiry is going to go ahead, it needs to be timely. We need a report sooner rather than later, hopefully before the next election. For that practical purpose, it's important that it be limited and targeted to Beijing's interference activities.
Mr. Julian professes to want to get to the bottom of Beijing's interference, but what he seems to be not very interested in doing is getting to the bottom of the 's role in Beijing's interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections. He doesn't seem interested in getting to the heart of the scandal, which is what the Prime Minister knew, what he did about it and what he failed to do about it.
The , based on everything we have heard, has done very little. His senior PMO officials may have turned a blind eye to CSIS's warnings, among other failures. I can appreciate why, at some level, although it's hardly commendable, the Prime Minister would like to cover this up, but it is astonishing that Mr. Julian and the NDP are prepared to join the Prime Minister in covering this up.
Yesterday evening there was an opportunity to deal with a motion that I had put forward—
I've listened very patiently to Mr. Julian, despite much of what he stated on the record having very little relevance to the amendment and during which he made certain completely unsubstantiated insinuations. Be that as it may, it is absolutely imperative that, if there is an inquiry, the doesn't get to do a do-over of the Rosenberg commission.
We had, just a couple of days ago, a report that was released from the person tasked with reviewing the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol of the 2021 election. Mr. Rosenberg is someone who had a conflict. He had a conflict, real or perceived—certainly perceived—by virtue of his role as the former CEO of the Trudeau Foundation, as someone who was involved in facilitating a $200,000 contribution from a business person and political person affiliated with the Beijing Chinese Communist regime who was implicated in the 's billionaire cash-for-access scandal in 2016. That individual, Mr. Rosenberg, whatever his credentials are, certainly should never have been tasked with undertaking such a review, given the circumstances and all of the questions around interference by the Beijing regime and his affiliation, association and closeness to the Prime Minister.
It undermines the credibility of the report. It undermines confidence in the report. We can't afford that in the case of an inquiry. We need to have confidence in the outcome of such an inquiry. That's why we're insistent that all parties, including the NDP, which I hope Mr. Julian would welcome, would have that opportunity.
I will leave it there. I may have other comments, but I will leave it there for now. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Julian asked a really important question, and that was: Why are Conservatives only interested in 2019 and 2021?
I would direct everybody's attention back to another Globe and Mail report from February 28, just a couple of days ago, which said:
The source said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service captured a conversation in 2014 between an unnamed commercial attaché at one of China’s consulates in Canada and billionaire Zhang Bin, a political adviser to the government in Beijing and a senior official in China’s network of state promoters around the world.
They discussed the federal election that was expected to take place in 2015, and the possibility that the Liberals would defeat Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and form the next government. The source said the diplomat instructed Mr. Zhang to donate $1-million to the Trudeau Foundation, and told him the Chinese government would reimburse him for the entire amount.
In other words, Madam Chair, while Stephen Harper was the prime minister, the Chinese government attempted to influence the leader of a national political party in the year before the election. The first time that the information that CSIS was tracking this donation came to light was two days ago.
It begs the question: Did Harper keep quiet for political reasons, either because of an upcoming election or because of his efforts to sign the secret foreign investment promotion and protection agreement? Conservatives make it sound like their work at the committee has forced a response on this issue, but they were in power when the alleged incident took place.
To Mr. Julian's question, and to the bigger issue of non-partisanship as it relates to trying to do this very important work, if we're supposed to take this report from one news outlet that is basically the foundation for everything that we're doing here today and everything that Mr. Cooper has been railing on about for the last little while.... If we're supposed to take that, why aren't we taking this other one from 2014? Why aren't we getting to the bottom of what Stephen Harper knew and what Conservatives knew at the time?
That could be the only reason to explain why Mr. Cooper is not interested in looking into the details of 2014. That could be the only reason Mr. Cooper would want to insist that we focus on just 2019 and 2021. I can't see any other reason.
To Mr. Julian's point, and to the point I've been trying to make the whole time, this is all politics for the Conservatives. They don't care about the report. They don't care about....
By the way, this commission or this public inquiry would take two to four years to complete. Another election will have likely taken place, especially if you go longer than the four years. They don't care about that. All the Conservatives are focused on is getting the little gotcha sound bite moments that happen to come along in the process of the inquiry. Trying to pick at one thing or another is all that they're interested in. In my opinion, if you really want to do this genuinely and in a non-partisan way, you would listen to the experts.
Although I agree with a lot of what Mr. Julian said, I guess we part ways in the venue by which this should be taking place. I don't believe that the appropriate venue is in the public forum, for the reasons that were outlined by just about every expert who's come before this committee already. A public inquiry is not going to have access to any more information than this committee would have access to. This committee is going to be limited, based on the security classifications of the various different documents.
Of course, that makes a great optic for the when he strolls out into a hallway and waves around documents that have been redacted, because then he'll say, “The Liberals are trying to keep secrets from us. The Liberals went behind their party office doors and blacked out all the information in here,” like the Conservatives usually do. That's just their game. That's the game. Nobody here at this table and no Canadian should think that the motivation of the Conservative Party of Canada right now is to deal with foreign interference.
However, I don't feel that's the same situation coming from the NDP. I don't feel that's the same situation coming from the Bloc. I feel as though they genuinely think they're coming from a good place by having a public inquiry. Of course, a public inquiry and getting things out in the open with sunshine and transparency—as Mr. Cooper has said repeatedly in this meeting—are the best ways to expose information to the public, but sometimes information is so sensitive and classified that you just can't do that.
I asked the last panel that came here if there was a lot of information they couldn't share with us. They agreed with that. I said, can you share that at NSICOP? The response they gave was that, yes, they could. That's where the proper classifications are in place.
I don't need to go on and on. I think Mr. Cooper and his colleagues want to talk about this some more at great length. They're entitled to do so. I'm happy to sit here and listen to it.
At the end of the day, this just comes down to whether or not we believe this is genuinely about protecting our democracy or this is just taking cheap shots at the and trying to get a gotcha moment. I don't blame the Conservatives for wanting to do that. It's what their leader does repeatedly. That's all he cares about. It's very disingenuous, but it's the reality of the situation. Here we are.
I want to understand this more. Foreign interference goes on in many different parts of the world, especially where democracies are alive. As we heard today from a witness, by its very nature, a democracy is open and is much more subject to foreign interference. Foreign interference is not a new thing.
Since this committee was formed over a year ago, we've been talking about studying this. We've been talking about doing it. It's not new. Suddenly it has become this sensationalized issue for the Conservatives, so they're running around town trying to tout the fact that the was covering something up, or one thing or another. It's so disingenuous when members of Parliament actually think that we would allow, knowingly, anybody.... As much as I disagree with Conservatives, I do not actually believe that any Conservative who sits on the other side of the aisle would actually knowingly go along with something like allowing foreign interference to occur. I hope the same is reciprocated by the other side. Who would ever actually allow that?
Then we have , who, by the way, I believe it was yesterday, said he would sit here for as long as it took to make sure that his position was defended and hasn't been here since two hours into yesterday's meeting. He called a member of Parliament an agent of China.
I'm sorry—it was an agent of Beijing. Thank you, Madam Chair, for the correction.
Is that appropriate or is that just Conservative fundraising? That's all that it is. Calling another sitting member of Parliament an agent of Beijing, do you think that's completely appropriate and there's nothing wrong with that? The Twitter trolls will love it. They'll jump all over it. The Conservatives will raise a little bit more money. Don't worry about what it does to the foundations of our democracy in the process.
Here we are, once again just debating endlessly in circles about how Conservatives can get their gotcha moment on the . It's not serving any purpose. If you really want to serve a purpose, then let's listen to the experts and do what they say to do, which is to allow the people who have the clearances, who are charged by the House of Commons to be the oversight, to view this stuff. Let them do the work that they're supposed to do to safeguard against any kind of foreign interference and monitor any kind of foreign actors who are trying to get into our democracy one way or another.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
That was a very powerful statement.
I am pleased to see the subamendment to remove the overly restrictive aspects limiting Mr. Julian's study to just China, for all of the reasons that we have heard from our witnesses. I'm very supportive of that aspect of it. I thank Madame Normandin for making that change.
Where I still have discomfort with the changes proposed by Mr. Cooper, it's a matter of—I regret to say—good faith.
I already spoke with a few members yesterday about the idea of obtaining unanimous support from all political parties in the House of Commons. If a party were to decide, for partisan reasons, not to agree to the candidate selected by consensus to chair the inquiry, I’m afraid the inquiry would never see the light of day.
I think it would be much better for the candidate to need the support of three of the four recognized parties in the House of Commons. Nobody would have the right to veto the choice of a chair for the inquiry, not even the party in power. That would force people to compromise in order to get the best person for the job.
I think this is a very important, if not critical, issue. Since we have to deal with the current subamendment, I can’t put another one forward. I hope my colleagues will see the sense in this and find a way to compromise.
Madam Chair, just to make sure that all the folks at home who are watching us.... I expressed in French my concern that seeking a unanimous choice for the new president allows one party to perhaps delay the selection of the person who would be responsible for presiding over this commission of inquiry.
If so, for very partisan reasons, that does not serve the needs and interests of Canadians. I would propose...and I cannot formally because there is a subamendment already proposed. However, I had some discussions with members of the opposition, saying that if they were willing to make a change to, say, rather than all four parties in the House of Commons having to agree for the selection, that three of the four would have to agree, this gives no one a veto and allows everyone to come to the table with good sense and seeking out the interests of all Canadians.
Thank you, Madam Chair.