Foreign interferences, Johnston is impassive: “I go forward”

TORONTO – David Johnston, the “special rapporteur” appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to verify whether or not to open a public inquiry into foreign interference in Canada (Chinese in particular), defines the allegations as revolving around his objectivity ” simply false” and, after having “advised against” the public inquiry, reiterated that he intends to continue his work, launching a series of public hearings next month. No public inquiry, however, contrary to what has been repeatedly requested by the entire parliament, excluding the Liberals. 

This is what emerged this morning from the hearing that saw him as a protagonist in the House of Commons. Questioned by the parliamentarians of the Committee for Procedures and Internal Affairs, Johnston therefore announced that he will begin the public hearings in July. “For this work, I will be supported by three special advisers with expertise in national security, intelligence, law and diaspora community issues” Johnston said. “Together, we will develop recommendations on the urgent changes needed to protect Canada’s democratic institutions and, more importantly, Canadians’ trust in these institutions”.

The MPs tried to “dig” into Johnston’s past, to highlight his personal ties to the prime minister, and consequently, his bias, incompatible with the role assigned to him: their questions largely focused on his close family connection with the Trudeau family and on his past as a member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation (which was the subject of examination on a donation linked precisely to China). “I don’t see a conflict,” Johnston said.

The hearing became an occasion for Conservatives and Liberals to clash: Liberal MP Jennifer O’Connell pointed out that the Conservatives spent the minutes available to them for questions without raising the central issue, namely that of foreign interference. Other Liberal MPs have used their time to read some old statements by Pierre Poilievre, leader of the Conservatives, which extol Johnston’s credibility and which are “inconsistent with his current views”.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, on the other hand, pointed to the “absolute lack of curiosity of this government which, despite clear and credible evidence of foreign interference, has never asked CSIS (Canadian intelligence) or other security services if whether or not Members of Parliament were targeted. ‘Has there never been an attempt to proactively assess threats… has there ever been that curiosity to know?” Singh asked. In response, Johnston he said he was “quite critical of the government’s shortcomings”, noting that “they have been slow to react, slow to anticipate in many cases. I completely agree that we didn’t have that kind of curiosity”.

Then, when questioned by a deputy from the Bloc Quebecois on why, given the precedents, he still considers a public inquiry unfeasible, Johnston reiterated the observations he had already made last month. The former governor general said that given the sensitive material and information that would be “at the heart” of whether the federal government has done enough to address allegations of interference, it cannot be aired publicly, because an inquiry into this phase “would not advance the goals of transparency or trust further”.

And also this morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continued to echo Johnston’s staunch defense. “The approach that the opposition parties, especially the Conservatives, have taken in terms of personal attacks, in terms of defamation of David Johnston and his team, is utterly irresponsible and not very serious. The issue of foreign interference is an issue that must be taken seriously, but falls into unfounded partisan attacks and this is not worthy of the work we have to do together as MPs” said the prime minister. An issue to be taken seriously for which, however, according to him, a public inquiry is not necessary.