Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday he will “voluntarily” testify before the public inquiry into foreign interference in the election if asked.
“Willingly and with great enthusiasm,” Trudeau told reporters at a news conference in Singapore.
“I think it’s important for Canadians to know exactly everything this government has been doing regarding foreign interference and to speak candidly about the challenges we continue to face in our democracies around the world.”
Following a series of media reports, the Trudeau government has faced harsh criticism for how it handled and responded to intelligence about alleged Chinese meddling in the last two federal elections.
While the prime minister and his top advisors They have denied some of the accusationsIn May, the government confirmed that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had detected a plot by China in 2021 to intimidate Conservative MP Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong. The federal government later expelled Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei in response.
While intelligence officials said the alleged interference did not compromise the integrity of the 2019 and 2021 elections, opposition MPs argued that a public inquiry would be the only way to maintain Canadians’ confidence in the electoral system.
On Thursday, Public Security Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced that Quebec Court of Appeal Judge Marie-Josée Hogue had been appointed to lead a long-awaited public inquiry into foreign interference.
Details of the investigation, such as when hearings will begin, how much of Hogue’s work will be made public and who will be on the witness list, have not been resolved.
The independent inquiry is tasked with investigating reports of interference by China, Russia, other foreign states and non-state actors in the 2019 and 2021 elections. Hogue has also been asked to look into how intelligence flowed to decision-makers in the context of the last two elections.
China has denied the allegations. In a statement Thursday night, the embassy in Ottawa accused the Canadian government of continuing to “exaggerate the lies” of Chinese interference.
“China deeply deplores and firmly opposes this,” the statement said.
“With ulterior political motives, some Canadian politicians and media outlets have been spreading lies and disinformation against China for a long time.”
Singh reviewed top secret documents on Friday
The announcement of the investigation comes after months of uproar in Parliament over how to handle the allegations.
In the spring, the government tasked former Governor General David Johnston with investigating the allegations. His May report found “serious deficiencies in the way intelligence is communicated and processed from security agencies to the government” but recommended against calling a public inquiry.
Johnston resigned in June, saying his role had become too confusing in the political controversy to continue. He has defended his impartiality in response to Conservative attacks by citing Johnston’s relationship with the Trudeau family and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who received top-secret security clearance, reviewed the documents compiled by Johnston on Friday and said they reinforce the need for a public inquiry.
Singh, like Green Party leader Elizabeth May, expressed frustration at the fact that she was shown the confidential annex prepared by Johnston and not the source documents she used to reach her conclusions.
“Since there was no access to the original documents, many questions remain,” he wrote.
“After reviewing Mr. Johnston’s summary, it is very difficult to understand the government’s lack of response to this information.”
Hogue will officially become commissioner on September 18. Her interim report is due at the end of February and her final report is expected at the end of 2024.
That timeline has been questioned, given how little time remains before the next federal election.
The Liberal minority government could fall to a vote of confidence in the House of Commons, sending Canadians to the polls early. The NDP agreed to support the Trudeau government in key House of Commons votes until June 2025 in exchange for progress on the New Democrat’s priorities, but the fourth-place party could always withdraw its support. Trudeau could also ask the governor general to dissolve Parliament if he decides to call an election himself.
Richard Fadden, who served as head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and national security adviser to two prime ministers, told Breaking: on Thursday that he hopes the government won’t wait for Hogue’s final report before acting.
“There are a number of areas” where the need for action is “pretty obvious,” Fadden said, pointing to calls for a registry of foreign agents.
Speaking in Singapore, Trudeau highlighted the fact that Hogue’s interim report is due early next year.
“There will be time to listen to what is said there,” he said.