Johnston’s report fails to quell anger


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“I recommend the government start immediately the process of working with the opposition leaders to obtain the requisite security clearance so they can read and review my full report, including the confidential annex.”

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“I recommend the government start immediately the process of working with the opposition leaders to obtain the requisite security clearance so they can read and review my full report, including the confidential annex.”

— David Johnston, special rapporteur on foreign interference

“Justin Trudeau’s handpicked ‘special rapporteur’ has done exactly the job that was asked of him. David Johnston is shamefully helping the prime minister cover up Beijing’s attacks on our democracy. This is outrageous, but not surprising.”

— Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre

Former governor general David Johnston may have learned the hard way yesterday what happens to those who take on thankless tasks at the request of Justin Trudeau. It involves the road to political hell and the best of intentions.

In his 55-page report tabled yesterday, Johnston provided a reasoned and thoughtful argument against holding a formal public inquiry into China’s interference in Canadian politics in the 2019 and 2021 elections, instead suggesting that he would hold his own public hearings on the issue “at the earliest possible date.”

A public inquiry would not actually be public, he said, because any commissioner placed in charge of such an inquiry would be reviewing the information in private, and speaking to witnesses in private, due to the sensitive nature of the intelligence at hand. Any conclusions made through such an inquiry would therefore also remain beyond public scrutiny, he said, leaving the public just as unsatisfied by the process as he has been.

Johnston said he found serious shortcomings in how intelligence from security agencies was communicated to various government departments, and how that information was then processed and communicated to responsible ministers, the prime minister and respective offices for decision-making and action.

Though he didn’t go into detail about these deficiencies, and failed to identify any negligence on behalf of the prime minister or federal ministers, Johnston did note that “these serious gaps must be addressed and corrected.”

Note that only a few months ago, Richard Fadden, the former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told media that Canada needed a public inquiry into the allegations of Chinese election interference. Fadden, who warned the government 12 years ago about the threat posed by China and other foreign actors who sought to meddle in Canadian political affairs, suggested the other “logical” option would be to have a non-partisan Parliamentary probe into the issue.

But as Global News reported last February, Fadden stated this second option would be too difficult to undertake.

“It has become so partisan that I think that this particular kind of topic would be almost impossible for them to look at objectively,” Fadden said at the time.

Unfortunately for Johnston, he has chosen this contentious second option, leaving him wide open to further public criticism from Trudeau’s political enemies — never mind the fact that it might well be the correct one, given the need for information secrecy.

Over the years, Johnston has shown himself to be an even-handed individual in his work with the federal government, one who has gone out of his way to remain non-partisan during his career. Given the nature of his findings, he must have known this report would not abate partisan anger, particularly in today’s hyper-partisan climate.

Government critics are using Johnston’s friendship with Trudeau and his membership on the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation as a cudgel to damn the entire process.

Following the release of his report, all three opposition leaders were united on Tuesday in dismissing Johnston’s findings, with Poilievre leading the charge by suggesting the report was “rigged from the start and has zero credibility,” and called for Johnston to resign.

Poilievre had refused to meet with Johnston during his investigation, and has outright rejected Johnston’s call for opposition leaders to get special security clearance to review the secret portions of his findings. The Conservative leader said being privy to information he could not talk about publicly would tie his hands when it comes to holding the government to account.

For his part, Johnston lamented that attacks on his work, and on his impartiality and integrity, were “troubling,” stating that these kinds of “baseless” accusations diminish trust in democratic institutions.

While there is truth to Johnston’s complaint, it’s also true that Trudeau has a track record of breaching government ethics, and as such, has run short of moral high ground upon which to stare down calls for a public inquiry.

Not only has Johnston’s report failed to quell rightful concerns over government inaction in the face of foreign interference in Canadian politics, he has now been painted guilty by association.

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