Canada’s foreign interference scandal keeps coming back to the same question.
Why did Prime Minister Justin Trudeau create new procedures to detect and report on foreign attacks on our democracy, and then ignore their findings and recommendations?
Trudeau created the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) in 2017, with representatives from all major political parties, headed by a Liberal MP, authorized to view top secret security documents and interview senior security officials in confidence.
In 2019, it advised Trudeau in its annual report — the public version of which was heavily redacted — that “there is work to be done” and “the government must do better” to combat foreign interference by China, Russia and other hostile states.
It described “foreign interference and espionage” as “the greatest threat to Canadian prosperity and national interests”, even more so than terrorism, and that “Canada has been slow to react to the threat.”
It advised Trudeau that unlike our allies such as the U.S., Australia and New Zealand which take the issue seriously, in Canada the false “assumption that foreign interference is not a significant problem” is widespread.
It warned Trudeau that foreign interference was co-opting Canadian government and opposition politicians and public officials at all levels, at all times — not just at the federal level during federal elections — by tactics ranging from bribery to blackmail and threats.
It noted that unlike the U.S. — which has had legislation in place since 1938 — Canada doesn’t have a foreign agent registration system, identifying lobbyists acting for foreign powers in Canada.
It said Canada’s “security and intelligence organizations do not share a common understanding of the threat” posed by foreign interference, “including its gravity … and its most common manifestations” while the government’s response to interference has been done on an “ad hoc, case-by-case basis”, instead of taking a whole-of-government approach.
It warned the federal government’s contact with provincial, municipal and Indigenous governments to jointly combat foreign interference, “has been inconsistent and uninformative.”
Canadians of Chinese origin who protest against Beijing’s dictatorial policies and are then harassed and threatened by agents of the Chinese government in Canada, “do not know whether to turn to CSIS, the RCMP or municipal police” for help, the report said, and “rarely receive a coherent response from officials.”
So, Trudeau was warned by his own committee four years ago about every controversy his government is now facing when it comes to foreign interference in Canadian democracy.
What did he do with that report and its recommendations?
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He ignored them. He didn’t even respond to NSICOP’s findings and recommendations — which the committee itself noted critically.
“We have to do a better job on following up on those recommendations. I fully accept that,” Trudeau said in March, pledging to do so going forward.
Finally, there’s Trudeau’s Critical Election Incident Public Protocol that he set up prior to the 2019 federal election to report to Canadians on foreign interference in our elections,
A review of that process following the 2019 election recommended the government’s strategy for monitoring foreign interference in election campaigns should be expanded to include the pre-writ period, since that was obviously when plans by foreign powers to interfere in our elections would be created.
But Trudeau and the Liberal cabinet rejected that proposal, again raising the question of why would the PM set up a process to report to Canadians on election interference, and then ignore its findings and recommendations?
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