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Report on foreign meddling sparks concern about MPs, Tories call for release of names

OTTAWA — The chairman of a national security watchdog says the panel "cannot add anything" to its finding that some MPs wittingly assisted the efforts of foreign states to interfere in Canadian politics.
Liberal MP David McGuinty, Chair of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, responds to questions from reporters before heading into a meeting of the Liberal Caucus in Ottawa, on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA — The chairman of a national security watchdog says the panel "cannot add anything" to its finding that some MPs wittingly assisted the efforts of foreign states to interfere in Canadian politics.

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians has gone as far as it possibly can to outline the accusations in its recent report, said Liberal MP David McGuinty.

The bluntly worded report has prompted concern that members engaged in meddling might still be active in politics, and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called Wednesday for the Liberal government to release their names.

On Monday, the watchdog committee, which includes MPs and senators, tabled an edited, public version of a classified report that was provided in March to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, McGuinty noted that committee members are bound by the Security of Information Act for the rest of their lives.

"Anything that we can say about these issues is in the review. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph has been through a very significant and detailed redaction process," he said.

"We cannot add anything to what's actually in the written text."

The committee said it had seen "troubling intelligence" that some parliamentarians are “semi-witting or witting” participants in the efforts of foreign states to interfere in Canadian politics. Examples included:

— Communicating information learned in confidence from the government to a known intelligence officer of a foreign state;

— providing foreign diplomatic officials privileged information on the work or opinions of fellow parliamentarians, knowing that such information will be used by those officials to inappropriately pressure parliamentarians to change their positions;

— and communicating frequently with foreign missions before or during a political campaign to obtain support from community groups or businesses the diplomatic missions promise to quietly mobilize in a candidate's favour.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said this week it is up to law enforcement to decide if any MPs broke the law.

McGuinty echoed that notion, saying it is the RCMP's job "to decide on the basis of any intelligence or evidence they may have in their possession whether they're going to take steps or not."

In response to queries from The Canadian Press, the RCMP said in a written statement Wednesday it was "an active participant" in the watchdog committee's review and provided detailed information about the force's knowledge and understanding of the threat.

"The RCMP can confirm there are investigations into a broad range of foreign interference in Canada, including matters which intersect with democratic institutions," the statement added. "The RCMP will not provide comment whether there is an active criminal investigation into any parliamentarian."

In the House of Commons, Poilievre said Canadians have a right to know the names of the MPs in question.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Poilievre "knows very well that no government" is going to discuss details of such intelligence information publicly.

LeBlanc suggested that Poilievre avail himself of the opportunity to view the classified version of the report.

"We don't need secrets and confidentiality. That's what got us into this problem in the first place," Poilievre shot back. "What we need are the facts so that Canadians can judge."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his top secret-level security clearance will allow him to receive a briefing soon on the confidential version.

"I want to know what's going on," he told reporters.

Singh said the allegations should be investigated further and charges laid if warranted. "We need to see some next steps, so that there's justice."

The committee report said foreign states conduct sophisticated and pervasive foreign interference, specifically targeting Canada’s democratic processes before, during and after elections.

It said China and India are the most active perpetrators, adding these activities pose a significant threat to national security and the overall integrity of Canada's democracy.

The committee's conclusions reverberate as Parliament studies a government bill that aims to better protect democratic institutions against foreign meddling.

The legislation tabled in the House of Commons early last month includes a host of measures to deter, investigate and punish foreign interference.

It would usher in new criminal provisions against deceptive or surreptitious acts, allow for the broader sharing of sensitive information and establish a foreign influence transparency registry.

Civil society groups expressed concern Wednesday that insufficient time is being set aside to study the bill at a Commons committee. Hearings began late last week and could wrap up as early as this week.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association urged the committee to request more time "so that truly inclusive and substantive public consultations can take place."

The Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group would also like to see more debate.

"We find it disappointing and outrageous, actually, that the bill is proceeding so quickly," said Tim McSorley, the group's national coordinator.

"The fact that they're moving so quickly makes it seem as though any amendments are highly unlikely."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2024.

— With a file from Mickey Djuric

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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