Evidence of meeting #57 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was information.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jennie Chen  Executive Director, Greater China Political and Coordination, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development

6:15 p.m.


Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

I just want to observe, it being 1:05, that it has been more than 14 hours now, over four days, that the Liberal MPs on this committee have been filibustering and droning on for hours on a very simple motion to have the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Katie Telford, testify before this committee on Beijing's interference.

It really begs the question: What does this Prime Minister have to hide? How much longer are you guys across the way going to continue this? Let's get it to a vote.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

6:15 p.m.


Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

I have a point of order, Madam Chair.

6:15 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bardish Chagger

Go ahead, Mr. Turnbull.

6:15 p.m.


Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I've been patiently listening to the wonderful speeches and all of the thoughtful input from colleagues. I just want to ask for clarification as to the relevance of the last comment made by Mr. Cooper. I believe we're actually debating the amendment, not the original motion. He didn't refer to the amendment at all, which doesn't include Ms. Telford or anybody else he referenced. I just want to ask for clarification on relevance.

6:15 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bardish Chagger

I see Mr. Barrett, and I will also go to Mr. Gerretsen.

We have leniency here. We've just listened to Mr. Long and we've heard from others, and there is some leniency. As long as we're coming back to the purpose of it, I think it's important that we provide leniency.

Go ahead, Mr. Barrett.

6:15 p.m.


Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

For more than two and a half hours, Madam Chair, Liberal members have talked about everything from their time in college to their time overseas, and about all kinds of nonsense unrelated to this very simple motion, without a single interruption from members of the opposition. I appreciate that Mr. Turnbull might be just rolling out of bed, but Mr. Cooper spoke for 30 seconds. Now that Mr. Turnbull has had his intervention, he can go back to sleep, but we've been here listening to this for two and a half hours.

Let's be judicious in when we want to chime in with those points of order, because we could call the question, end the cover-up, have the vote and find out what the Liberals are trying to hide, or we can listen for another two and a half hours to more filibustering.

6:15 p.m.


Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

I'd like to speak to that point of order.

6:15 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bardish Chagger

Mr. Gerretsen, as I mentioned, I will come to you.

It's challenging for me, Mr. Barrett. I would have agreed with you entirely, but I think sometimes when it comes to the extra commentary, it's not necessary. I say that to everyone equally.

When it comes to relevance, I think we've all demonstrated leniency. I agree that we should be judicious with points of order, and that it's important that members get to speak.

Go ahead, Mr. Gerretsen.

6:15 p.m.


Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

On this point of order, Madam Chair, only about a year or a year and a half ago, I witnessed Mr. Barrett speak about train robbers and store clerks from the 1800s for 45 minutes in the House of Commons, and the Speaker agreed that what he was contributing was indeed relevant. I hope you take into consideration leniency and the fact that the rules we have within this committee are very much supposed to follow those in the House. I hope that will be a consideration.

6:15 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bardish Chagger

I think what's clear is that sometimes, as the chair, rather than trying to seek consensus, perhaps I should just go with my feeling and recognize that a health break is needed.

With that, I am going to suspend the meeting for 10 minutes and encourage you to take a health break, stretch and do whatever you need to do, so that we can continue with the functional meeting, because it is a very important topic we're discussing.

We'll see you back in 10 minutes. Thank you.

1:25 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bardish Chagger

With that, I'd like to welcome everyone back to our committee.

On our current speaking list, I have Mr. Gerretsen, followed by Mr. Fergus, who will be followed by Mr. Duncan.

Mr. Gerretsen, the floor is yours.

1:25 p.m.


Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

I thank everybody who has had the opportunity to speak prior to me. I've certainly learned a lot. I think there was a lot offered, in particular in the comments made by Ms. Vandenbeld and Mr. Long. We really heard some interesting perspectives.

Ms. Romanado, you speak all the time and I'm always moved by your comments, but we had two special guests today, and I felt as though they were able to bring a perspective to this that was very interesting, a perspective that is perhaps outside of what we're used to talking about in this committee.

I know we are talking to the amendment to the motion, so, Madam Chair, in the interest of making sure that I stay relevant, I want to talk about and read out where we are with this motion and then the amendment.

The original amendment says:

That the Committee, in relation to its study of foreign election interference, invite Katie Telford, Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, to appear alone for three hours during the week of March 13, 2023—

I think there will have to be an amendment to this at some point, given the date prescribed.

—provided that she be sworn or affirmed.

An amendment that was added and since passed says to “invite the following individuals to appear before the committee as part of the study provided that they be sworn”. It lists the national campaign directors of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party for the 2019 and 2021 campaigns. Then it lists the leader of the official opposition's senior leadership adviser and the former chief of staff of the former leader of the opposition.

That amendment was passed, and we are now dealing with Mr. Turnbull's amendment. The amendment asks that the motion be amended by replacing the words after “in relation to its study of foreign election interference” with the following:

Invite the 2019 and 2021 national campaign directors of each recognized party in the House of Commons and the security-cleared party representatives to the Security and Intelligence Threats to Election Task Force during the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

That's where we are right now on this.

I have some comments that I would like to offer in relation to this, but before I do that, I think something bears repeating, because every time I have had the opportunity to speak at this committee since it occurred.... I brought up the fact that a sitting member of this committee, Mr. Calkins, who hasn't spoken a word in quite a while, made a rather offensive comment when he referred to one of our colleagues, the member for Don Valley North, as “an agent of Beijing”. He did that in a video he took of himself when he was walking through the airport on his way to a committee meeting here.

I have yet to hear the member who made the comment, a member of this committee, apologize for it or provide some insight into how he has come to that conclusion. I also have yet to hear any of my colleagues, on the Conservative side in particular, try to either defend or denounce those comments. It is extremely unfortunate, because I think that as members of this committee and as honourable members, it's extremely problematic when MPs start to refer to other MPs as agents of Beijing. I'm still waiting for that patiently. I have yet to see it. I note that Mr. Calkins hasn't contributed to the meeting pretty much since the day he shot that video or the day after. I hope he will soon be here to address it.

It's true—and I don't think it's going to come as a surprise to anybody—that the Liberal members on this committee are filibustering because we don't believe in the appropriateness of this motion. That's why we're doing this. We don't call political staff to question period, do we? Are political staff asked to answer questions in question period? No, they are not.

The accountability lies with the minister. For accountability, the ministers are willing to appear before committee. We've already had a couple come before this committee. It's their job to speak on behalf of the committee.

When I say we are intentionally delaying this, it's because we're trying to ensure that ministers remain accountable. I would say I'm just trying to be consistent. I'm trying to be consistent, but not with our side of the table; I'm trying to be consistent with the Conservative side of the table.

Let me read you something, Madam Chair. These are the words of Pierre Poilievre. Listen to what he had to say:

The reality is that Mr. Soudas—

He was the director of communications for the Prime Minister's Office at the time.

—is not going to be testifying anyway because of a tiny, little inconvenient problem that the coalition parties have, which is this 300-year-old concept of ministerial accountability, meaning that ministers answer questions on behalf of the government and not staff.

We're not going to be changing 300 years of history all of a sudden, at the behest of the coalition parties. We're not going to have staff members appearing in question period to answer on behalf of the government. We're going to do it the old-fashioned way, the way it's always been done right up until the last several months, and we're going to keep ministers, the guys in charge, responsible for their duties.

Those were the words of Pierre Poilievre—when he was a minister—on CBC on June 4, 2010. He was explaining to Canadians why it is inappropriate to be calling staff before committee. As I said, I'm just trying to be consistent with the Conservatives and consistent with the Leader of the Opposition, Pierre Poilievre. Those were his words. He's the one who said this is a 300-year-old tradition. How can we break from this tradition?

If anybody out there watching this is wondering why the Liberals are filibustering this.... If you're filibustering something, it must mean you're up to something nefarious and you're hiding something. However, the reality is that I'm participating in this because I want to be just like Pierre Poilievre. Can you believe that? That's my objective here. I want to live by the words of Pierre Poilievre.

That's why I'm participating in this process. That's why I think it is incredibly problematic to bring staff before this committee. It's not because I think staff can't answer the questions or that they don't have the capacity or the ability to do it. It's because I agree with Pierre Poilievre when he says that the buck stops with the minister. The minister is responsible for answering questions. That's my position on this, and I'll take the great advice given to us by Pierre Poilievre, as minister at that time, when he suggested that it would be completely inappropriate.

If anybody wants to see that video—this won't surprise many people here—I tweeted it. If you want to go to my Twitter feed, Madam Chair, you can see in the flesh a young Pierre Poilievre from 13 years ago saying that. It's available for people to witness and view.

It begs the question: Why the double standard? Why was it completely inappropriate 13 years ago, when Poilievre was in the other position, to be saying that staff should appear before committee, but now, when we're effectively doing the same thing, Mr. Cooper says there's something to hide? Why is that? Explain it to me. I will talk as long as necessary to get an answer from the Conservatives that satisfies my concern over why it is okay for Pierre Poilievre to make that comment in 2010 and to take that position in 2010, but suddenly now, it's not okay for us to take that position.

I can ask questions. I can encourage my colleagues to respond to that. I have a feeling they won't, because it doesn't fit the political narrative that Mr. Cooper in particular is trying to spin out of this whole process.

I think he's underperforming, by the way. I don't think he's convincing Canadians with his approach on this, and I think the vast majority of people would agree. The buck stops with the minister. I would agree with Mr. Poilievre that the buck stops with the minister. It's up to the minister to come testify and appear before committee and answer the committee's questions. We've already had a number of ministers do that.

This goes back to why the Conservatives are doing this. I talked about this last time. They're not doing this because they genuinely care about the outcome. They don't care. What they care about is the sound bites and the clips they can make along the way. It's not just my saying that. Fred DeLorey, the Conservative campaign manager from 2021, recently said in an interview that it seems like the opposition is just trying to create issues and to use this as a political tool. Nobody stands to gain more from it, by the way, than those who would want to interfere with our elections.

I won't stop at Mr. DeLorey. How about former senator Vern White, a Conservative-appointed senator? I know Ms. Romanado earlier spoke a bit about what former Senator White said.

All of my colleagues are bringing me various forms of lozenges, so thank you very much.

This is what Vern White said to CBC on March 11, just a few days ago: “Everybody who wrote about the reports of the committee”—and he's referring to NSICOP—“wrote in glowing terms that we were doing our job. That's all you can do. And my circle of influence never extended into PMO or PCO. That could have caused people to react. I think we did our job.”

Later on, former senator White said:

One is you'll get the transparency that you're allowed to receive. I don't think you'd get more through a public inquiry process either. You're not going to get what you can't get, right? I mean, ultimately, you're not going to get the techniques, all of those kinds of things you heard from the CSIS director last week, who is a spectacular guy. I think he was very clear on what he can and can't tell.

I realize, Madam Chair, that this relates back to the public inquiry, and I'm going to tell you in a second how it comes back to the issue we're dealing with in this motion specifically. Senator White is basically confirming everything we've been saying all along, which is that it's not appropriate to be discussing this information in public and that it should be done somewhere like NSICOP.

If we try to haul before this committee Katie Telford, or other staff who might have the proper security clearances to have seen this, they're not going to be able to provide us any information, even if we thought it would be appropriate to invite them here. This is where Mr. Poilievre and I don't agree. We don't think it would be appropriate to bring staff here.

We can recognize that. Why do you want someone here for three hours to comment on this information when you know they can't do it? It brings me back to my point that the Conservatives must be playing games to create sound bites. They want three hours' worth of video in order to clip something out of it afterwards. That's what they want. That's all that they want. I think everybody knows that. I think the partisan hacks know that. I think anybody in the Ottawa bubble or anybody who's paying attention to this knows that. That's all they're really after.

Senator White goes on to say:

I think NSICOP would be quicker than a public inquiry [and] a hell of a lot cheaper than a public inquiry.... I think this team, both the secretariat and committee, are ready to run. It's too bad politics—

This is coming from the Conservatives.

—is becoming the player here in discussion around whether or not NSICOP should manage it. But you can go back and ask any member of NSICOP. Regardless of whether they were with the Conservative party, the NDP party or the Liberal party, they will all talk about the strength of that committee.

This is the part of his interview Ms. Romanado referenced as well. I think it's very important, because it underlines and solidifies, in my opinion, my argument about taking politics over the genuine interests of this country. The interviewer Catherine Cullen says, “Pierre Poilievre has talked about this as being both a secret committee and suggested that they're under the control of the Prime Minister. You used to be a Conservative. I know you left caucus, but what do you think about hearing that from the leader?”

Of course, I should have referenced that Senator White was appointed by a Conservative, which is what I said. He was a Conservative senator, but then I think the Conservative Party veered way too far into extremes, even for a Conservative senator, and he decided to join another caucus in the Senate.

Here's his response to Catherine Cullen's question. He said, “Obviously it's BS. They're not under control. Look, our work was done unfettered—unfettered—until the report goes forward, and then there are strict rules on things that need to be redacted. Read the legislation. It's very clear.” That's what Senator Vern White says.

This is what Senator White says about Pierre Poilievre:

He's allowing the politics to take over, the same as Erin O'Toole did, to be fair, when he refused to put members on that committee.... I won't be surprised that maybe Pierre will pull his folks off it, like Erin did. I'm not sure, but it's too bad because I think this committee does great work. Nobody has questioned this committee's independence. We had former ministers, a number of ministers under Stephen Harper's time, sitting on that committee. Not one of them ever questioned the credibility of that committee, and it's disappointing to hear people question it.

This is Senator Vern White, a retired senator. He just retired recently. He was appointed by a Conservative and was a Conservative sitting senator until he decided to join another caucus that wasn't so extreme. These are his comments about Pierre Poilievre and the approach he's taking as it relates to “allowing the politics to take over”, in his words.

Madam Chair, here we are, and you can't help but wonder. I started off by telling you about what Pierre Poilievre did in 2010 and the strong position he took on protecting staff and not allowing them to appear before committee. He was so matter-of-fact about it. He said, “The reality is that Mr. Soudas is not going to be testifying”. That was the Conservative approach to this back then. I would suggest to you, Madam Chair, that we're just being consistent with Pierre Poilievre. We said staff will not be testifying, and it's the right thing to do.

I've told you about Mr. Poilievre's position on this 10 years ago. I've told you about Senator White's interpretation of what is going on, the impact it has and what he thinks is really happening. You can't help but wonder: Why would Pierre Poilievre be so invested in this if it wasn't for anything other than partisan and political gain and trying to score cheap points?

I'll tell you what's going to happen. This committee will adjourn today at some point. Mr. Cooper is going to send out an email blast—he's nodding his head, great—or it will be Mr. Poilievre. It will be Mr. Cooper saying, “The Liberals filibustered for 17 more hours. They're hiding something. Help us find the truth”, and there will be a big “donate now” button underneath.

That's why we've been dragged to Ottawa during a constituency week. It's so that the Conservatives can continue to fundraise. I doubt there is any other reason or any other motivation on their side of the table than exactly that. It's partisan cheap shots and political fundraising. That is it, in my opinion.

I think it would be very useful to talk about what another Conservative senator has said. He was a Conservative senator who represented my area, Mr. Barrett's area and Mr. Reid's area before he retired. That's Senator Hugh Segal. Senator Segal had a lot to say about this as well. He was a Conservative senator who, I would note to you, Madam Chair, was appointed by a Liberal Prime Minister, Paul Martin. That was back in the day before Stephen Harper got a hold of the Senate and before the mess and debacles that came about as a result of his appointments. That was back when a Liberal Prime Minister could say, “Hey, I don't care what political party you are. I think you would be a good fit for the Senate and, therefore, you're being appointed.” That's how Hugh Segal, a Conservative, got appointed by a Liberal Prime Minister.

Let's listen to a bit of what Hugh Segal had to say. He contributes to the Toronto Star, and this is specifically about this particular issue and where it all started. After I talk about this, I'd really like to hit on a point that Ms. Blaney made at the beginning of today's discussion when she was talking about the motivation and trying to be careful when it comes to journalistic integrity. Mr. Segal wrote this:

It is possible that Canadian Security Intelligence Service is unofficially correct and that the People's Republic of China (PRC) embassies, consulates and United Front networks and agents have been, and are, involved in specific efforts to unlawfully impact the outcome of Canadian federal elections.

After all, Australia's Security Services has openly discussed evidence relating to their election. And European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pointed out that European countries must keep up their guard against these interferences.

But one wonders what the summary is about the perceived incoherence of Canada’s security establishment reported?

“Leaks” from national security organizations are against the law and are currently being investigated by the RCMP.

Further, the Chicken Little nature of the Official Opposition is apparently resistant to demonstrating any balance or regard for a measured or broad national interest beyond its own narrow coyote approach to public discourse. Yes, there are questions to be answered. But rather than co-operating in an effort to get those answers, the “gotcha” moments appear to be far more important.

He's talking about you, Mr. Cooper.

He goes on to say:

Unfortunately, political gamesmanship can put people in harms' way as has been shown by the 300 per cent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.

Inflaming segments of the public, who might use the information as rationale for taking matters into their own hands, is dangerous and racist.

As for the media, some seem to favour “the instant over the substantial.” Any suggestion that China, or Russia or Iran interfered in our elections must be investigated. However, any suggestion that classified information must be made public or shared is not acceptable. I would hope the media understands the difference.

A conjured-up crisis about how our Canadian national security was organized (or not) would generate more dislocation, misunderstanding, disunity and apparent national and political incoherence than any alleged gaggle of Chinese spies or agents hovering around or elected to Parliament.

Again, for those who are just joining us, these are the words of Senator Hugh Segal, a Conservative senator, from prior to retirement.

He goes on:

In other words, the purveyors from within Canada's political establishment with no Chinese connection could and would do more harm to Canada’s competitive interests with the PRC, than some potential Chinese agents.

It's as if some of the actors in our political media system have drunk from the same fountain of odd fluids that generate a loss of measured judgment and a tendency to overstate what could threaten national security and dilute any actual facts that protect our democracy.

Public inquiries can be helpful. They can also lead down dark roads—especially when sources, for various reasons, are secret sources that need to stay secret. Should these sources be forced to discuss their intelligence on the record, in public, they would weaken the mission of protecting Canada and Canadians from foreign assaults on our human rights, economy and armed forces. Further, they could imperil Canadian diplomatic and immigration personnel worldwide.

Only governments in power need to worry about this. Coyote-style opposition parties and their media fans do not.

The PRC could very well use the current sowing of discord as a tool equally as helpful as actual espionage or political interference. Just as the Russians had a major impact on U.S. politics by floating the Donald Trump conspiracy—partially true or utterly false—so too would the Chinese see benefit in the apparent overwrought Canadian establishments' both media and political, quixotic overreaction to a leaked CSIS document whose accuracy is less than clear.

Canada has gone through real crises, two world wars, the depression, the War Measures Act, the 2008 recession and Trump, to name a few. The powers-that-be in Parliament, government and the media did not lose their heads.

There is no reason to do so now.

Those are the words of Senator Hugh Segal, the senator who represented my area, Mr. Barrett's area and Mr. Reid's area, a Conservative senator.

I also read to you the words of another Conservative appointed senator, Vern White. They're both retired now. Those are their words about what the official opposition is doing right now: playing political games, dragging parliamentarians to Ottawa on a constituency week when we could be working on behalf of our constituents and dragging us here so they can drum up video and sound bites for fundraising.

Before I started reading that I said I would address Ms. Blaney's point. I think Ms. Blaney has a very good point. We need an independent media in our country that is able to properly do its investigations and properly report. I think that's very important, but I would refer her—notwithstanding the incredible comments by Mr. Segal, who pretty much just addressed this point—to the fact that we had experts here who were sitting on the panel activated during an election. I said to them very specifically that they are getting reports across their desks on intelligence, and they assess those reports and then decide what to do with them. They concurred. The point is that the RCMP also said they're not currently investigating anything.

It doesn't take a lot to conclude that an intelligence report—which as we know does not mean evidence and can feed into the system to determine the validity of it and what to do with it—is something that is not necessarily always true. That's what he said. He said intelligence reports quite often are based on rumours. Those were his words, not mine, when he appeared before committee.

If The Globe and Mail, or any reporter for that matter, intercepted an intelligence report without understanding how it was dealt with or what validity was associated with that intelligence report, if that occurred.... We have been told nothing is being investigated, so it leads me to believe that the intelligence report, or those intelligence reports, didn't contain enough to pursue an investigation. Therefore, they were not given or were not treated as extremely.... I don't want to say how they were treated, because I don't know. That's how the system works. The point is that there are currently no ongoing investigations.

I appreciate what Ms. Blaney is saying, when she says we have to be very careful, and we have to allow the journalists to do their work. I'm sure this journalist was able to verify, by multiple sources, the intelligence report, but we heard very clearly that intelligence reports are not evidence because they are only one part of gathering information in order to determine how to act on information, if it's necessary.

I agree with Ms. Blaney that we have to be very careful, but I also think it's important for people to understand exactly what we're talking about. We're talking about reports that are out there that are based on information and that went to the leadership charged with dealing with that information. I don't know if it was accurate or not. I don't, but it's important to point out that it is possible, especially based on the questions and answers from the witness, that it isn't accurate. It is possible, but I, obviously, don't know because it's not my position to weigh in on that stuff.

One thing I forgot to mention is that not only was Senator Segal—I read out his entire statement in the Toronto Star—a senator, but he was also the chief of staff to former prime minister Brian Mulroney. I can only imagine that former Senator Segal never came before the committee as a chief of staff back in Brian Mulroney's days. It's important to reflect on the fact that you have an individual here that has been on both sides of this. He has been an actual chief of staff to the prime minister and also a senator, and he's basically blasting the approach of the Conservatives.

I must be honest. I didn't expect so many Conservatives were going to line up on this side of the table. So far I've referenced three: Fred DeLorey, the former campaign manager for the Conservatives in 2021; the former Conservative senator Vern White; and former Conservative senator Hugh Segal. All have blasted the Conservatives for their position on this.

Notwithstanding the fact that Pierre Poilievre also blasted his own position on this, although he did it 13 years in advance of taking the position. I guess I should hand it to Mr. Poilievre. He's completely entitled to changing his position on it.

However, I think he owes it to Canadians, to this committee and to parliamentarians to at least explain why the rules should have been different for Mr. Soudas compared to Ms. Telford. Why are the rules suddenly different? He may have very well changed his mind, but he has yet to explain why he changed his mind.

There's more from Mr. Poilievre, and I think this speaks very well to exactly what he's up to. I don't know if he meant to answer this question like this last week, but in doing so, I think he revealed a lot about what his intentions are.

Mr. Poilievre, last week on March 7, was trying to clarify a position he had taken the day before with a reporter with regard to his having access to this information. I believe the exchange centred around the idea of whether Mr. Poilievre would be content if he had access to the information that CSIS and NSICOP have.

Mr. Poilievre responded by saying:

The question yesterday was whether I would go in and personally get briefed about secrets of the state, and the answer—if I could answer your question—I gave was “of course not”, because then they would use that to silence me from speaking out any further. It would then become illegal for me to speak out.

Isn't that fascinating? If you read between the lines there, Madam Chair, you know what Mr. Poilievre is up to. He's more interested in the politics of this, and it's clear from that. He's basically saying, “If I get briefed on this, I'm never going to be able to speak about it again, and I raise a lot of money speaking about this, so I'm not going to stop speaking about it.” That's what I read from Mr. Poilievre's approach on this.

He's basically saying that he doesn't want the information. He doesn't want to know the truth, because if he knew the truth, he couldn't keep up the rhetoric that he's currently throwing at Canadians and that continually flows out of his mouth on a day-to-day basis. He would suddenly, in his words, be silenced, and he could no longer get in front of the microphone, cry foul and suggest that the Prime Minister, in Mr. Cooper's words, is trying to cover something up. He wouldn't be able to do that, because suddenly he would have all the information, and he would have been sworn to secrecy in order to receive that information.

Now what do we have? I have Mr. Poilievre conflicting with himself in his comments from 2012. I have Senator Vern White saying they're just playing politics. I have Fred DeLorey, the Conservative campaign manager from 2021, saying they're just playing politics. I have Hugh Segal, a well-respected senator across the aisle, saying the same thing, that they're just playing politics. They are all Conservatives.

I have Mr. Poilievre's own words, saying that if they briefed him on this, he might know the truth, but then he couldn't talk about it and he couldn't keep scaring Canadians. That is so telling of what the intentions of the Conservatives are here today.

We heard Mr. Long speak at length about NSICOP and the membership on NSICOP. I heard a lot of that and I know others have spoken about it too. I thought it would be important to refresh people, because the Conservatives, through their motion here, which Mr. Turnbull is trying to amend, are basically saying that they want to bring staff here to answer questions, which they know they can't answer for security reasons. I thought it would be beneficial to review who has the ability to look at this information as it currently stands.

As we know, the chair of the NSICOP committee is the Honourable David McGuinty. He has been chairing this committee pretty much since its inception.

Who are the members on this committee? In particular, who are the Conservative members? Mr. Rob Morrison is currently on it, as well as Mr. Alex Ruff. Both are Conservative MPs. Rob Morrison is a retired senior executive chief superintendent with the RCMP, and Mr. Ruff is a retired colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces, with 25 years of service.

I don't even have to know what political party these two individuals belong to, Madam Chair, to know that I have faith in them to look at this information and do what they think is necessary to protect Canada.

I take the words of Mr. White very seriously and to heart when he says that the committee was able to work collaboratively, regardless of partisanship or political party, for the best interests of Canadians. I have great faith in Mr. Morrison and Mr. Ruff, who have that wealth of knowledge and expertise from their lives prior to being elected as members of Parliament, knowing that they contribute along with, currently, Mr. Davies, Mr. Bergeron and Senator Lankin.

These individuals sit on that committee with three Liberal members to review classified information, to formulate and to ask questions where they think necessary, and to formulate responses that go back to Parliament and are tabled for Parliament to review. That is just who is currently on the committee, Madam Chair.

Prior to that, in the last Parliament—the 43rd Parliament—we had Leona Alleslev, who was a Conservative member, and Mr. Falk. They were both on that committee. We had Mr. Morrison and Mr. Motz on that committee.

Again, Ms. Alleslev is a retired captain in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Mr. Morrison is a retired senior executive chief superintendent with the RCMP, as I previously mentioned. Mr. Motz retired from the Medicine Hat Police Service in 2015.

Again, these are extremely qualified Conservative members of Parliament who sit on the committee along with Bloc and NDP MPs and a few senators. Once again, they are charged with reviewing the information that comes before them, asking the questions, getting answers, formulating opinions together and submitting reports to Parliament.

I have great faith in all of these Conservative MPs, regardless of the fact that I might not be of the same political party. First and foremost, I think the nature of these meetings—having to be kept in secret and the information revealed in secret—just by default is going to create a more collaborative environment.

I heard Ms. Vandenbeld tell the story of what Peter Milliken used to do. As Peter was one of my predecessors, I've had a lot of opportunity to chat with him. I can remember him saying that it was always the behind.... Parliament used to break for lunch back in the day. I think it was between one o'clock and two o'clock or something like that. When it would break for lunch, everybody would go for lunch together. It would force members of different political parties to sit together, to chat and to understand each other without having a camera in front of their faces. I think Ms. Vandenbeld made some excellent points about the benefits of that. I've heard Peter Milliken speak about that at length in the past too.

The reasons that those behind-the-scenes, off-camera interactions can contribute to collaborativeness and working together are the exact same reasons that I believe this committee does the same thing. When you are sworn to secrecy, you have to leave all communication devices in a locked cabinet. You have to descend, probably, into the basement of somewhere around here—I don't even know where it is—where special protocols are taken to ensure secrecy and to ensure that the material is handled the right way.

Madam Chair, I think that is when you're going to get people to just be themselves, to ask questions candidly and to not be worried about how the opposition will spin what they just said to benefit themselves? This is where, quite frankly, we need to be sharing these very important conversations and these secrets that are out there.

A lot of people ask, “Why does the information have to be kept secret and why is this stuff classified?” It's not just about the impact that sharing this would have at home. It's not just about the impact that it would have on our adversaries, who are enjoying watching this circus going on right now. It's not just for that, although they do enjoy watching that and seeing this. It's also about the fact that we work with allied partners throughout the world. We work with other countries. We share information. We give them secrets. We rely on them to give us secrets so that we can all stay safe. If Canada suddenly starts showing that it doesn't know how to keep its information safe, why on earth would our allied partners trust us and want to continue working with us and have confidence in our ability to maintain that degree of secrecy where necessary?

When NSICOP was first formed in the 42nd Parliament, Madam Chair, a number of different Conservative MPs served on it: the Honourable Diane Finley, a former Stephen Harper minister; the Honourable Rob Nicholson, a former Harper national defence minister, foreign affairs minister and attorney general; and Tony Clement, another Conservative MP and a former Harper health minister, industry minister and president of the Treasury Board. Gord Brown, Mr. Barrett's predecessor, was on that committee, as was the Honourable Vernon White, senator, who was then a member of the Conservative Party and whose comments on this I previously talked about at length. All of these people were participating on that committee in that collaborative manner with NDP, Bloc and Liberal members of Parliament, as well as the Senate representation that was there.

I think it's extremely important when we reflect on this that we genuinely look at whether or not the objective here is what's in the best interests of Canadians. It's important for us to make sure that we use the information and the tools that we have. I would suggest to this committee that calling staff before it is not appropriate for the reasons that.... Ignore the reasons that I've put on the table. It's for the reasons that Pierre Poilievre has put on the table. Those are reasons enough in themselves. That's why it would be inappropriate to bring staff here. More importantly, it's just inappropriate to be having these conversations. They won't have these conversations with us at this table about highly classified information.

I can't help but wonder what the real motivation is here. It's pretty clear to me that this is more about politics than anything else. When you look back at what this government has actually done as it relates to foreign interference, we've actually done a lot.... We've taken this extremely seriously since day one of being elected. We've brought in a number of various different measures, which we've used to help combat foreign interference. I think it's worth considering that stuff and talking about that stuff.

The special panel that was created to deal with election interference in real time, as it's happening, consists of independent, top civil servants who have access to what they need to have access to in order to monitor what's going on and provide a conduit for political organizations to feed information into as it relates to foreign interference. That panel was established to deal with that, to be the conduit for that, and to assess and to take action where necessary. It was something that was put in place very strategically, I think.

When members of Parliament are busy running an election campaign and are not focused on what's going on in Ottawa, this would be the best time for any actor who is looking to interfere in our democratic process to attempt to do so, in particular as it relates to elections. We have this panel that can receive information from the Conservative Party, Liberal Party, NDP and basically the parties out there running in the elections. It can receive that information, act on it, decide what to do and report back where necessary.

The reports generated from the work done by those panels in both 2019 and 2021 demonstrated, when they reported back, that elections were conducted in a free and open manner. No interference contributed to the outcomes of the elections. The irony is that I know that Mr. Poilievre has even mentioned that. He's even said that he believes the results of the last election were legitimate, but it doesn't stop Conservative members of Parliament on this committee from sowing doubt in people's minds that perhaps it isn't the case. It won't stop them from trying to generate fundraising off this particular issue.

That's one thing we did since we came to power in 2015 to try to assist with what was going on in terms of interference in our elections. Another thing we did, of course, was to pass Bill C-76 in 2018. First of all, Bill C-76 undid a lot of what Mr. Poilievre did when he was minister that was making it more difficult for people to vote. We believe it's important that we have fair elections that encourage as many people as possible to vote. Our democracy, the concept of democracy, depends on people casting their ballots. Why on earth would a government of the day try to limit people's ability? It would appear to me that the only reason they would do that is if they saw gain in doing it, and I'm sure they did. However, we made it easier for people to vote through Bill C-76.

One other thing that happened through Bill C-76 was that it specifically closed some of the avenues by which foreign donations could be made into Canada's election process. I think that was extremely important as a first step in trying to combat any kind of influence, through monetary sources that would come and put money into our election process.

Now, with Bill C-76, regardless of the reason for it.... Perhaps Conservatives just thought at the time, “The Liberals have a majority, so it's going to pass anyway. We'll look better if we vote against this.” I don't know if that was the rationale or if they genuinely had an issue with those things that I just mentioned. I don't understand how they could, other than the fact that Mr. Poilievre was the one who had made it more difficult for people to vote.

Nonetheless, Bill C-76 was voted on. Conservatives voted against it. They voted against the idea of encouraging people to vote. They voted against, more importantly, closing loopholes or closing avenues that allowed foreign actors to donate within our political systems.

Then, of course, there's the other thing the government did—the most important thing, in my opinion. The thing that gets little attention outside these discussions was bringing in NSICOP and ensuring that we had a mechanism in place where parliamentarians had the ability to oversee the secrets that were being collected, gathered and held by our security agencies in this country.

I think that's extremely important, because we do need parliamentary oversight on that, and that's what we had out of NSICOP, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. That gave them the ability to monitor and watch what was going on. It gave accountability and oversight where it was needed.

When we talk about a public inquiry, as the opposition parties have insisted upon, I think it's important that we reflect on the fact that we have these great mechanisms that have already been put in place—that I just mentioned—that are there to ensure that we have the ability to make sure our elections are done in a free and transparent way and that things are kept in the hands they belong.

I think it's also important to reflect on the more holistic discussion that we're having today: that the last election was decided by Canadians, and by Canadians only. The suggestion, as I know the official opposition would like to lead you to believe, is that there was interference that changed the result of the last election. From all of the intelligence reports and from any questions that have been answered at this committee, that is not the case, full stop.

This isn't to say that we don't worry and shouldn't always be worried about what is going on as it relates to the public domain in terms of interference. I know that attempts at interference have been going on for a long time in one form or another, and we know this happens in other countries too. As a matter of fact, by the nature of democracies being open, they give the opportunity for attempts at interference. That's why it's incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to ensure that we put the right processes in place to allow for the necessary steps to be taken when it is determined that interference is potential or ongoing.

Let's not forget that the objective of foreign actors, when they look to interfere in our democracy, is to sow division. What they're trying to do, what they want to see, are the discussions that are going on right now in this committee. They benefit from it. They want Canadians to question their democracy. They want Canadians to stop and think about whether outside forces are interfering in their elections. Those actors become more powerful when we become less confident and less trusting in our systems, and in particular our democracy.

That's why I've always maintained that it is very important that issues like this are done in a non-partisan way. I know I'm the first to jump up in the House and aggressively display my partisanship from time to time. I get that. I know that. It's who I am. I also respect the fact that....

Are you concerned, Madam Chair, because you don't believe that? News flash: I'm partisan from time to time.

My point is that there are certain issues that I think have to be treated in a manner that is non-partisan. Where better to do that then away from the television cameras and in an environment that all stakeholders can participate in and not be influenced by that?

When I know that foreign actors are watching us and seeing the division that exists in our country, I am genuinely concerned, because I recognize it is not something that I would like to see. I think that people, at the end of the day, would rather know that we are capable of handling these things without having to worry about that, but nonetheless, here we are.

I've talked at length about various different individuals who have come forward, in particular Conservatives who have contributed to the discussion that's ongoing right now. I don't know how many more Conservatives have to come forward for Mr. Cooper to realize that Mr. Poilievre is right in that the proper place for staff is not at the end of a committee table answering questions, and that it is up to the minister to properly answer questions. The buck stops at the minister. The minister is responsible.

Let's be honest. If any staff person did something that Mr. Cooper found offensive, I'm sure that he would be calling on the minister to come and take responsibility for it. Why he wouldn't accept the minister's taking responsibility to answer these exact same questions is beyond me. I think it's a bit of an issue to be approaching it that way.

I know I've been dragging on here, Madam Chair, but the last time I spoke, I realized afterwards that I forgot to talk about this and I don't want to miss the opportunity again. Mr. Long brought this up in his conversation. It's about one of the other things we've done. I listed the three: NSICOP, the special panel during an election and Bill C-76.

What the Prime Minister just announced in the last couple of weeks was an independent expert—hopefully that's better terminology for the Conservatives to accept—who will look at where any holes exist within current organizations like NSIRA and NSICOP and determine if there is anything that needs to be done or make recommendations on how to further strengthen those organizations.

The other thing that the independent expert is required to do is to look at the issue of this foreign interference and determine the best place for a study to occur. The Prime Minister said in his statement that he would accept whatever they put forward. If the independent expert or the rapporteur—whatever we're calling them—agrees that Mr. Cooper was right all along that a public inquiry is the only answer here, we will accept that and we'll move forward with that, but we let an independent individual do that. We don't make it a partisan issue.

I don't see why, unless you're afraid that you will never find somebody who's impartial out there who will agree with a public inquiry.... If you're afraid that you'll never find that, then I can understand why you would be against the idea. Based on the information that's come forward, based on the experts who have come to this committee and based on Conservative senators and Conservative campaign managers, they all say the same thing: that NSICOP is the place where this belongs. It doesn't belong in the public forum.

If you're willing to accept a special expert to look at this, if you're genuinely worried about making sure that this is dealt with in the right way, if you strongly believe the right way is through a public inquiry, and if you feel that's the best way, then put your faith in an expert to decide that. Put your faith in that expert coming to the same conclusion.

The only reason they're not putting their faith in the expert is that they know that they're wrong and they know that the position they're taking is inaccurate. They know that, once that happens, the issue is over and they no longer have the opportunity to fundraise off this. That's why they're not giving up on this.

What I actually find really surprising, if I'm being honest, is the position of the Bloc and the NDP. I would have thought they would have come around to understanding two things: that a public inquiry is not.... This is not me trying to convince my Bloc and NDP colleagues. Just listen to the experts. Listen to the people who came to this committee whom we asked.

Not a single person who came before this committee actually said that the best place for this is in a public inquiry, not a single one. I get the Conservatives' politics on this. What I don't get is the Bloc's and the NDP's, because you would think they would be interested in listening to an expert and what an expert had to say about it, but they're not.

The other thing I take issue with in terms of the approach of the NDP and the Bloc is the approach of dragging staff before a committee. I don't know—in 2010 I wasn't here—what their position on it was back then. Maybe the NDP were in favour. They must have been at that time. I don't know the logic behind it. Perhaps they are being consistent. I don't know, but they must know that accountability does not lie with staff people, regardless of whether they are the director of communications or the chief of staff. Accountability lies with the minister. If a senior staff person did something wrong and the minister ought to have known about it, you would be calling on the minister to resign, not the senior staff person.

I've witnessed it many times in the House of Commons. To now suggest suddenly, against Pierre Poilievre's advice, that it is totally appropriate to be holding staff accountable, I think, is disingenuous and I think it's just playing politics.

As I near completion of my intervention at this point, Madam Chair, I'll just end where I started, which is that we all know—everybody sitting around this table knows—that it's not appropriate to bring staff before a committee and to try to interrogate them as though they are accountable to us, because they are not accountable to us. Staff are accountable to their minister, and the minister is accountable to us.

If the Conservatives were sitting on this side of the table, they would be arguing exactly the same thing. As a matter of fact, Mr. Poilievre has argued it in the past, so we know that.

If the NDP were sitting on this side of the table, they would argue exactly the same thing. Come on—this is the NDP. This is the party that purports to be on the side of labour, and you're trying to tell me that you think it's appropriate to drag staff, individuals, before the committee? You would never get away with that in a unionized environment, but it's suddenly acceptable because it's political staff. We know the NDP would argue the same thing we're arguing.

If the Bloc were sitting on this side of the table, the country might look a lot different than it currently does, in fairness to my Bloc colleagues here, but I know they would be doing the responsible thing too, which is saying that, no, staff should not be brought before committee. It's not for parliamentarians to drill down and ask staff questions in that manner.

When I was involved in municipal politics in Kingston, we didn't drag.... The only staff who ever spoke to city council were commissioners. These were the individuals who were charged with answering the questions. If you ever attempted to go and talk to somebody who was responsible to a commissioner, especially without the commissioner's knowing about it, that was considered to be a huge no-no.

That was considered to be extremely egregious, and I would suggest it's the same thing here.

I know that it's not as sensational to do it the way we're supposed to do it, because it doesn't play itself into the hands of the optics that the official opposition would like to see, but it is what it is. You don't have to take my word for it. You just have to take Pierre Poilievre's words for it—and I'll conclude with this, Madam Chair. He said:

The reality is that Mr. Soudas is not going to be testifying anyway, because of a tiny, little inconvenient problem that the coalition parties have, which is this 300-year-old concept of ministerial accountability, meaning that ministers answer questions on behalf of the government, and not staff.

We're not going to be changing 300 years of history all of a sudden, at the behest of the coalition parties. We're not going to have staff members appearing in question period to answer on behalf of the government. We're going to do it the old-fashioned way, the way it's always been done, right up until the last several months, and we're going to keep ministers, the guys in charge, responsible for their duties.

That was Mr. Pierre Poilievre on June 10, 2010, on CBC's Power & Politics, when he was the parliamentary secretary to Stephen Harper.

I don't have to listen to anybody else at this table. I listen to the incredibly insightful words of Mr. Pierre Poilievre to know that we're on the right side of this issue.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

1:25 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bardish Chagger

Thank you, Mr. Gerretsen.

I will now go to Mr. Duncan and Mr. Turnbull, and then I have Ms. Lambropoulos.

Go ahead, Mr. Duncan.

Oh, wait. I skipped one.

I'm sorry, Mr. Duncan. It is Mr. Fergus.

I apologize.

Mr. Fergus, the floor is yours.

March 7th, 2023 / 1:25 p.m.


Greg Fergus Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

I would like to apologize to my colleague Mr. Duncan. He has to wait for his turn to speak, but I am very much looking forward to hearing the points he has to make.

I would also, in turn, like to congratulate my colleagues Mr. Gerretsen, Ms. Romanado, Mr. Long and certainly Ms. Vandenbeld on their interventions. I hope I have not forgotten anyone. What they raised was very enlightening.

We are currently debating the amendment proposed by my colleague Mr. Turnbull to amend Mr. Cooper's motion. Like my colleague from Kingston and the Islands, I am vehemently opposed to the spirit of the motion for exactly the same reasons he mentioned.

In our country, which has a parliamentary system based on the Westminster system, ministerial responsibility has a long tradition. Mr. Gerretsen quoted remarks made by Mr. Poilievre in an interview with CBC when he was in government. Mr. Poilievre had mentioned that this tradition has been around for 300 years. Until the current government came to power in 2015, this tradition had only been broken once. Unfortunately, since 2015, in the seven and a half years that we have been in government, there have been two occasions when ministerial assistants have appeared before a parliamentary committee. Even though this has only happened three times in over 300 years, I am concerned that we are opening the door to political assistants appearing. Yet, I hope that this will always remain something quite exceptional.

There is a reason why ministerial responsibility has become a tradition. This is based on experience in various parliamentary systems around the world. It has been concluded that those who are accountable are the elected officials, the public servants and perhaps even some Canadians, not the people who work for politicians. These people did not put their names on a ballot. They are simply acting on behalf of their boss, who is an elected official, a parliamentarian. This is one of the many fundamental principles that make our parliamentary system work.

As M. Poilievre said in that 2012 or 2013 interview, it is not political assistants who answer questions during oral question period in the House of Commons, but their bosses. Similarly, we don't expect to have these people appear in committee to answer questions. We can invite their bosses, and that's fair and important. However, inviting the assistants, that is not done.

That is why we are having this extended debate today, if I can use that euphemism for filibuster. I hope that common sense will prevail among my colleagues in the opposition and that they will see to it that this part of the motion is withdrawn. Then we can move on, or at least talk about other aspects of foreign interference, which is taking place not only in the political world, but also in the academic, economic and social world. These issues are very important. So, I hope that we will have the chance to deepen our knowledge in this regard, to better understand, better act and thus prevent these kinds of undesirable interventions in Canadian society.

I spent much of the weekend reading the “Report of the Events Relating to Maher Arar”. I see similarities between what we are experiencing now and what happened in the case of Mr. Arar. I want to emphasize that the damage caused by the so-called leaks is damaging the reputation not only of individuals, but of an entire community.

You may think I am exaggerating, but in reading about this commission of inquiry that ran from 2004 to 2006, something deeply saddened me. Unfortunately, I did not write down the page where I read this, but I will report it from memory. In speaking with those close to Mr. Arar, Mr. O'Connor learned that one of his great disappointments was the unwarranted smearing of his reputation. Mr. Arar said that after his release from Syria, after the year of hell in which he was tortured for fabricated reasons, he was repeatedly told by Canadians who passed him on the streets of Ottawa that they were in solidarity with him and that what he had suffered was unacceptable. What touched him deeply and saddened him was that some members of the Muslim community had been afraid to express their solidarity with him because these unwarranted leaks to the media demonized the entire Muslim community and these people did not want to be seen as being too close to him.

We can very well understand all that has happened to this community. Much more than regrettable, it is unacceptable.

We need to not only save ourselves a little embarrassment, but use a lot of judgment before deciding to publish unverified or verifiable information from so-called leaks without having other sources that could corroborate it.

I am a man of a certain age. In my youth, there was Watergate. Information had leaked out, and I think the journalists who received it had the best instincts and applied the best standards of the journalistic profession: they used that information as a basis for seeking independent confirmation, before deciding to publish that information.

It comes back to what all of my colleagues have raised and what we heard during the national security experts' appearance. They said that intelligence is often a matter of rumour. Indeed, we may hear someone say something or receive information from our allies. People are bound to be looking for that information. Sometimes you can see partial information in a report, like a snapshot. However, intelligence is gained through analysis, through the overall picture that can be painted after adding other information and placing it in context in a systematic way. Sometimes this is done by taking information from our allies who make up the Five Eyes alliance, that is, the countries with which we exchange information freely. These are great democracies of the world with whom we exchange an enormous amount of information, because we share the same values.

So sometimes people have had brief access to partial information and they pass it on to the media. I understand the reasons why journalists publish this information. However, I think it is much better when they follow the same journalistic standards that were applied during Watergate, when reporters sought a second source to confirm the information.

Otherwise, when people have only a small detail or glimpse of a piece of information, their imagination leads them to paint a whole picture of the situation that may not be well-founded or accurate. They may even imagine all sorts of falsehoods that will nevertheless have very real repercussions on individuals and on an entire community.

I know that there are Chinese Canadians who feel targeted, who are on the lookout and who are on the defensive because of all the things you read in the newspapers. I remind you that this is based on partial information that is certainly not impartial. It is partial and biased information, I should say. It is terribly unfortunate, because the consequences will be enormous. It all saddens me so much.

As Ms. Blaney said, we shouldn't put all the blame on journalists. If some publish just anything because they want to be the first to talk about an issue, that's their business. But my expectations of all of us as parliamentarians are much higher. Indeed, I expect us not to go off in every direction after receiving information that is not true or confirmed.

I take my hat off to the committee, which at least invited experts and responsible people from the various agencies involved to present information to us. What did they tell us? They told us at least four things. First of all, they described to us how they collect all this information. They also told us about the importance of not relying on partial information. You have to look at the big picture if you want to do a more accurate analysis. That's how you get to the analysis.

In all of this, there is one thing that is not mentioned. I personally don't have the security clearance to receive top secret level information, but everyone I've talked to who has been in sensitive positions in this area has said that context is very important to paint a picture. Often, they can tell that the information they receive is probably true. In other cases, they know that the information is not very reliable. Sometimes they have no idea if the information is true or not, but they take it into account because it comes from one of their sources. That said, the stories we read in the newspapers, after so-called leaks, did not include any such assessments. So we have no way of assessing the relevance of the material selectively reported by some journalists after these information leaks.

At the end of the day, I'm really saddened that we're in the situation now where this kind of investigation is being called for.

He was the one who chaired the commission of inquiry set up because of a huge injustice suffered by Mr. Arar.

It all started on September 26, 2002. I am sure that day is etched in Mr. Arar's memory, as well as in the memories of his family members and many Canadians. On that day, while transiting through John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Mr. Arar was intercepted and then detained by U.S. authorities for 12 days. He was then sent against his will to Syria, where he was tortured for over 12 months.

Commissioner O'Connor then launched an investigation, much of which focused on leaked information. After months and months of investigation, he wrote this in his report:

The evidence shows that over an extended period of time classified information about Mr. Arar was selectively leaked to the media by Canadian officials. The leaks date from July 2003, before Mr. Arar's return to Canada, to July 2005, during the course of this Inquiry.

So, even during the commission of inquiry, there were these kinds of leaks of classified information.

The commissioner continued:

I am satisfied that the issue of leaks falls within my mandate, as it relates directly to Mr. Arar and to the conduct of Canadian officials. While it is not my role to draw legal conclusions about possible breaches of Canada's Privacy Act, Security of Information Act or Criminal Code, I am satisfied that I should report on the nature and purpose of the leaks and the impact they had on Mr. Arar. Perhaps not surprisingly, the identity of the Canadian officials responsible for the leaks remains unknown despite the fact that several administrative investigations have been conducted by the relevant government departments or agencies into the sources of the leaks. There is also an ongoing criminal investigation into a leak of information to Juliet O'Neill, a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen. Although there appears to be little cause for optimism that investigations will ultimately determine the source of any of the leaks, I do not consider that my mandate directs me to pursue such investigations. To do so as part of a public inquiry would be a huge endeavour and determining the source of the leaks is not sufficiently linked to my mandate to be warranted. That said, I do not consider myself constrained in reporting on the leaks by the fact that the specific sources are unknown. The evidence at the Inquiry is more than sufficient to enable me to comment on the origins of the leaks in general terms, their purpose and the impact they had on Mr. Arar and his family.

Madam Chair, I will give you the English version of what I am reporting. If it is possible, I would like to ask the clerks to pass it on to the interpreters. Our interpreters work very hard and do an exceptional job. I think that if they had the English version of what I am about to quote in front of them, it would make their job easier. I think that's important, if we all want to do our jobs well.

I will continue:

Criminal investigations are generally kept confidential in order to ensure fairness to individuals subject to investigation, who may never be charged, and to protect the ongoing effectiveness of the investigations. There is an additional rationale for confidentiality in the case of national security investigations: the need to protect classified information. Nonetheless, the fact that an investigation is being conducted may sometimes become known, generating interest on the part of the media and the public. In those instances, government authorities with access to classified or confidential information are in a position to sway public opinion by selectively divulging information to the media. Because the public cannot know the full picture, leaks of selected information can be misleading [...]

I will repeat that:

Because the public cannot know the full picture, leaks of selected information can be misleading and unfair to individuals who may be subjects of the investigation or persons of interest to the investigation. This is especially so when the leakor adds a spin to the leaked information to get his or her message out. Leaking classified information is clearly wrong and a serious abuse of trust. It can also be a dangerous practice if the information is subject to a legitimate national security confidentiality claim. Leaking classified information may harm national security, international relations or national defence. This case is an example of how some government officials, over an extended period of time, used the media to put a spin on an affair and unfairly damage a person's reputation. Given the content of the released information, only individuals with access to classified information could have been responsible for the leaks. The obvious inference is that this was done to paint a picture they considered favourable either to the Canadian government or to themselves. It is worth bearing in mind that leaks of government information can have different aims. In some cases, the leakor is seeking to disclose what he or she perceives to be government wrongdoing that would not otherwise come to light. Other leaks, however, seek to advance the interests of the Canadian government or of government officials, in some cases by disparaging the reputation of another. This was the case with some of the leaks concerning Mr. Arar, which were aimed at tarnishing Mr. Arar's reputation and undermining his credibility. Some were likely intended to persuade the Government of Canada not to call a public inquiry. While most leaks likely involve a breach of some form of confidentiality, using confidential information to manipulate public opinion in favour of the Canadian government's interests or the interests of the leakor of the information is obviously more egregious. This is particularly so when third parties are targeted in a way that is unfairly prejudicial to them. Because it can be so difficult to counter this type of leak, one can only hope that some of the public and the media are sophisticated enough to perceive the reality of what is occurring and to reserve judgment until there is a fair and transparent disclosure of all of the relevant facts.

Moreover, I would never have the necessary context here, around this table, to judge and assess whether or not that information is relevant. Why? Because we don't have the necessary security clearance.

On the other hand, what is an appropriate place for that discussion? Clearly, one such place is the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. Why is that an appropriate place? Because the MPs who are members of that committee have the necessary security clearance to access all the information that has not been redacted. So they are able to accurately review the situation, make an appropriate assessment of what they are reviewing, and determine the accuracy of the information.

Our committee is not the place for those discussions.

To the Canadians watching us on television, I would like to point out something that all MPs know: any inquiry to get to the bottom of an issue, regardless of the subject, must have two components. One is a public inquiry, during which publicly available information can be discussed without impacting our intelligence agencies, our institutions or our allies. At the same time, we have to think of the hard-working men and women who in some cases put their lives at risk to gather certain information. Any discussion of such matters is always behind closed doors. Everyone knows that.

In spite of this, complete transparency is being demanded and Canadians who are not following these events closely are led to believe that everything will be disclosed. That is utter nonsense though. That has to be said. If we did that, we would not be living up to our fiduciary duty as MPs. I hope everyone takes seriously their duty to always ensure that Canadians are well protected. That is our basic duty as elected officials.

That is the challenge. Will we tell the truth or mislead Canadians by claiming that we will get to the bottom of things, while knowing very well that we cannot disclose classified information? We simply do not have the right to do that. That would be irresponsible.

Furthermore, perhaps too much information is classified or considered secret. That is indeed something we could discuss. That said, as long as we are not changing the rules, we will be in the same situation as we are today. Disclosing classified information would be a violation of the Criminal Code and we could be fined. In so doing, we would certainly be jeopardizing our seats in Parliament.

When journalists ask me if I am opposed to a public inquiry, I say I would be very glad to have one, but there would have to be two parts, like the O'Connor commission into the events relating to Maher Arar.

Ten days ago, the Prime Minister told Canadians that he would be appointing an independent special rapporteur who would suggest a better way of proceeding. I think that is the best approach. That person will examine, on a prima facie basis, everything we need to do to get to the bottom of what happened. He will determine the best course of action and suggest that to the Prime Minister, who has agreed to immediately disclose the results of that review and follow all the recommendations of the independent special rapporteur.

We have a good solution before us and I hope my colleagues will ultimately admit that this course of action is entirely reasonable and principled. In so doing, I hope that we, as members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, can finally move on to matters within our mandate which we can investigate in accordance with our skills and abilities.

We have to remember that our committee has other very important matters to consider. I am thinking in particular of the federal electoral boundaries commission reports. This is an important and non-partisan aspect of Canada's democratic system. We have the fiduciary duty to work on that. I hope we will be able to continue our work.

In reading Mr. O'Connor's report, I was struck by certain elements. I would like to quote a few passages, because I think we need to bear them in mind as we attempt to find a solution to this impasse.

By way of context, this report was written by Commissioner Dennis O'Connor, who was a member of Canada's judiciary.

I know that front-page headlines are appealing. My colleague from Kingston and the Islands noted that, for some people, they are a way to appeal for funds from the public. We have to ask at what cost, though. The reputation of certain individuals has really been tarnished. Regardless of their guilt or innocence, this is not right.

This report is a good warning to us all. We should recognize that there are certain lines we should not cross, but we are in the process of doing just that. As I said a few seconds ago, we have to consider what the cost is.

I will continue reading from section 5.2 of the report:

The Inquiry heard evidence of at least eight media stories containing leaked information about Mr. Arar and/or the investigation that involved him. Some of the leaks sought to portray Mr. Arar as an individual who had been involved in terrorist activities such as training in Afghanistan, had named other “terrorists” while imprisoned in Syria, and was “a very bad guy” and “not a virgin.” The sources of the leaked information were both human (unnamed government officials) and documentary (classified or confidential documents).

Justice O'Connor then lists all the instances in which these leaks truly affected Mr. Arar's reputation.

The first leak occurred in the summer of 2003, before Mr. Arar's return to Canada.

I would add here that he was returning from Syria, where he had been tortured. Torture is never justifiable, and his detention is Syria was unjust. Let me continue:

[This was] a time when the public campaign to obtain his release from Syrian custody had intensified. An unidentified official was quoted as saying that Mr. Arar was a “very bad guy” who had received military training at an al‑Qaeda base [this was patently false]. The article also noted that the unnamed government official had refused to provide further details, attributing the need for secrecy to ongoing intelligence operations [once again, this was patently false]. The apparent purpose behind this leak is not attractive: to attempt to influence public opinion against Mr. Arar at a time when his release from imprisonment in Syria was being sought by the Government of Canada, including the Prime Minister. Around the time of Mr. Arar's return to Canada in October 2003, four more leaks were reported. On October 9, 2003, the Toronto Star quoted “an official involved in the case” as saying that American officials had contacted their Canadian counterparts when Mr. Arar's name had been noted on a passenger flight list (referring to Mr. Arar's arrival in New York on September 26, 2002). According to the unnamed source, conversations had taken place between American and Canadian officials about Mr. Arar, in particular about whether he had travelled to Afghanistan and whether he could be charged if returned to Canada. The next day, October 10, 2003, an article in theGlobe and Mail cited unnamed Canadian government sources as saying that Mr. Arar had been “roughed up,” but not tortured, while in detention in Syria.

Once again, the content of these leaks was patently false. The information was published without confirmation from a second source, which is the minimum required before deciding to publish such information. In this case, there was a serious impact on the physical and mental health of a Canadian. This infuriates me. The report goes on to say:

The latter comment that Mr. Arar had not been tortured is consistent with the reaction of several Canadian officials on Mr. Arar's return to Canada: they attempted to downplay the seriousness of the ordeal he had endured in Syria. The implication in this regard is that, if Canadian officials were in any way involved in what happened to Mr. Arar, it would be better from their standpoint if he had not been seriously mistreated.

Once again, this is infuriating. To continue:

On October 23, 2003, the CTV 11 o'clock news broadcast a segment quoting “senior government officials in various departments” as saying that Mr. Arar had provided information to the Syrians about al‑Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and cells operating in Canada. Mr. Arar was alleged to have implicated other Canadians in extremist activities. Again, the indirect suggestion was that Mr. Arar himself had been involved in extremist terrorist activities.

This is completely false.

As noted in an Ottawa Citizen article published on October 25, 2003, the leaks about what Mr. Arar might or might not have said to his Syrian interrogators were “particularly worrisome” and potentially very dangerous, not only for the Arar family, but also for the individuals allegedly named by Mr. Arar and still in detention in countries known to practice torture. The allegation that he had denounced others would also have been harmful for Mr. Arar psychologically. As noted by Dr. Donald Payne, a member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture, “it would be difficult for anyone to be pointed out as a betrayer of people, to be falsely pointed out as a betrayer of people.” Even Mr. Arar's first meeting with DFAIT officials in Ottawa on October 29, 2003 did not remain confidential despite an understanding before the meeting that what Mr. Arar said would not be disclosed until he chose to divulge it. On October 30,CBC Newsworld reported that Mr. Arar had met with Minister Graham and had told DFAIT officials that he had been tortured while detained in Syria. Although this disclosure appears to have breached a confidence, it obviously did not discredit Mr. Arar, as several others did. In the press conference held in Ottawa, on November 4, 2003, Mr. Arar told his story at length and described the torture he had suffered in Syria. He strenuously denied all allegations that he was implicated in terrorism or associated with people involved in terrorist activities. He also called for a public inquiry into his case. Four days after the press conference, on November 8, 2003, the most notorious of the Arar leaks occurred. Information from classified documents was published in the Ottawa Citizen, in a lengthy article by Juliet O'Neill entitled “Canada’s dossier on Maher Arar: The existence of a group of Ottawa men with alleged ties to al‑Qaeda is at the root of why the government opposes an inquiry into the case.” This front-page article contained an unprecedented amount of previously confidential information, including a detailed description of the RCMP Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET) office in Ottawa, a place not accessible to the public, and specific reference to the “main target” of investigation, Abdullah Almalki. It indicated that “one of the leaked documents” contained information about what Mr. Arar had allegedly told the Syrian Military Intelligence during the first few weeks of his incarceration and then went on to describe this information in detail. The article moreover referred to some aspects of the RCMP's investigation of Mr. Arar and cited a “security source” for the proposition that a suspected Ottawa-based al‑Qaeda cell was at the root of opposition by the Canadian government to a full public inquiry into Mr. Arar's case [...]

These leaks, which were not validated, caused a great deal of harm. We are in exactly the same kind of situation as in the Arar affair. We must learn from our past mistakes.

When it is suggested that we become part of the problem, that we react on all fronts to information that is unverified, if not denied by the officials who appeared before this committee at the start of the month, that is a mistake and leads nowhere.

Throughout this report, Justice O'Connor indicates that the purpose of these leaks was probably to serve the interests of those who thought they had the truth about Mr. Arar. Yet, they were proved wrong. Why did those people act that way? As our witnesses told us two weeks ago, those people only saw part of the whole picture that was revealed in the information to which the officials had access.

We must do everything possible to avoid past errors. Those errors had a terrible impact on Mr. Arar. We mustn't do the same thing to other people when we have no proof that they did anything wrong or were disloyal to Canada. Let us save our energy instead to go after those who want to harm our country, and go after those who are responsible or guilty.

There is a very important section in this report. It will not take too long. I will read out the part about the effect of the leaks on Mr. Arar. I referred to this when I began speaking, and for the interpreters, it is in Section 5.4 of the report. Justice O'Connor wrote:

The leaks had deleterious effects on Mr. Arar's reputation, psychological state, and ability to find employment. The impact on an individual's reputation of being called a terrorist in the national media is obviously severe. As I have said elsewhere in this report, labels, even inaccurate ones, have an unfortunate tendency to stick. While the Inquiry did not hear from Mr. Arar directly about the personal impact of the leaks, Dr. Donald Payne testified that, generally, such leaks would have a traumatic psychological effect on someone in Mr. Arar's position and would carry a likelihood of re‑traumatization.

Before I continue reading, I should note that Professor Stephen Toope, who is mentioned, is a well-known Canadian academic. He was the president of the University of British Columbia. He was also vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, in the United Kingdom. It is very rare for a person who is not British to hold that position, which says a lot about Stephen Toope's excellent reputation. Let me continue.

In addition, Professor Toope, the fact-finder I appointed to report on Mr. Arar's treatment in Syria, made specific findings on the impact of the leaks. Professor Toope reported that the leaks had caused further psychological damage to Mr. Arar:

[Mr. Arar] was particularly disturbed by certain “leaks” from sources allegedly inside the Canadian Government that cast him in a negative light. These events compounded his sense of injustice dating from his detention and torture in Syria. All his advisers that I interviewed emphasised that Mr. Arar was “devastated” by these leaks. Some described him as “hysterical.” He simply could not control his emotions, and it took many hours of constant conversation to calm him down each time new information surfaced in the press that he thought to be misleading or unfair. Professor Toope also linked the leaks to Mr. Arar's feeling of social isolation from the Muslim community: [Mr. Arar] told me that he is disappointed with the reaction of many Muslims to him and his story. Whereas other Canadians sometimes come up to him on the street to share a sense of solidarity, most Muslims stay far away from him. Mr. Arar thought that this distancing was exacerbated after the press “leaks” mentioned previously. Finally, Professor Toope described the economic effect of Mr. Arar's ordeal on the Arar family as “close to catastrophic.” Inasmuch as the leaks have painted Mr. Arar as a terrorist, it is reasonable to infer that they have contributed to his ongoing difficulty in finding gainful employment in his field. Lastly, I note that Mr. Arar's time in Syria deprived him of something most Canadians take for granted: “control over the truth about oneself.” The fact that this deprivation continued after Mr. Arar's return to Canada—this time because of leaks of confidential information by government officials—is both unfortunate and deeply unfair.

I am not accusing anyone here of treating others unfairly. I know that we MPs around the table are all trying to do the right thing and protect our country's interests, and those of our fellow Canadians, of course.

We had a warning in 2002‑03. We have to resist the temptation of getting sidetracked by all the courses of action suggested. There are certainly rumours that are unconfirmed or that are from a single source. Let us hope the information provided by the sources is true. I hope the sources are not reporting false information.

Quoting small bits of information does not constitute intelligence. Intelligence is based on the analysis of the entire situation. Intelligence agency officials have all said that what was leaked to the media does not come from them. That should concern us. Moreover, even if the information is true, it does not provide an overview of the situation.

Finally, as Mr. Gerretsen, my colleague from Kingston and the Islands, mentioned, the fact that the RCMP is not investigating the information reported in the media shows us that the review of the entire picture does not reveal anything.

If that is the case, why is it that we committee members and MPs, who are committed to protecting our fellow Canadians, can be tricked and drawn into a situation, the only result of which is to tarnish the reputation of our fellow Canadians and of an entire community?

I do not know why we would go down that path. It makes no sense. If we continue along that path, I suggest that we proceed very carefully. At least, we should start with the assessment of the intelligence experts who shared their conclusions and stated that this is not something we should do.

I will now return to another aspect of the “Report of the Events Relating to Maher Arar”.

People might be tired of listening to me talk about this, but it is essential that we recognize that we are playing with fire.

1:25 p.m.


Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Chair, a point of order, since Mr. Fergus has raised that possibility.

I know you have been very accommodating with regard to relevance. I am still trying to see the link between the “Report of the Events Relating to Maher Arar” and the motion, which seeks to invite the national campaign managers from 2019 and 2021. Unless the author of the report was a campaign manager in 2019 and 2021, I am still looking for the link.

Could my colleague enlighten me on that?

1:25 p.m.


Greg Fergus Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

I will be pleased to do so, Madam Chair.

1:25 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bardish Chagger

We shall see if Mr. Fergus explains the link; I hope he does.

1:25 p.m.


Greg Fergus Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

I'm glad my colleague raised the issue of relevance. People play games. People can say that Mr. Arar was neither a chief of staff nor a national election campaign manager of any political party, and that is true.

I raised this point because we are debating something that intelligence and national security experts maintain does not exist. In their opinion, the most that can be said about the information leaked to the media is that it is incomplete and does not provide the whole picture.

Without disclosing any state secrets or security intelligence, these experts said there was no fire even if we think we see smoke. They said that foreign interference is indeed important and real, but that, in relation to the inquiry, we have to be careful about the information certain individuals have disclosed to the media and certain journalists, because those experts are not convinced of the truth of that information.

That is why I raised another situation in which information leaked to the media was revealed to be completely false. It was not simply a waste of time or a situation in which the victim emerged unscathed: there was a real victim in that case.

We cannot say that all individuals act in good faith. When a person who presumably works for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service decides to leak information even though their job requires them to swear an oath and not disclose sensitive information, we have to ask some questions. Not only is that person disclosing just a single aspect, but they are not living up to their professional commitments.

We can wonder whether such a person is reliable if they are willing to abandon their professional obligations and take the risk of being charged and going to jail for leaking information. I am not sure that is a reliable person. I would like at least to have a second source of information. It is unfortunate that, among the journalists involved in this matter, at least one journalist was involved in the Maher Arar affair and decided to publish information that proved to be false, which caused a great deal of harm to Mr. Arar.

I am tremendously concerned about this. That is why I am suggesting this, Ms. Normandin. That is why I think it is important to remember what happened, because I hope that will compel us to avoid something that could become or could be perceived as a major injustice. That is why I am drawing a parallel between the current situation and what happened 20 years ago. I think that is our duty.

I do not want to deal with this matter lightly. What we are discussing is significant. Aside from the principle of ministerial responsibility, what we are discussing here is essentially based on leaked information that intelligence and national security officials have rejected as false. If we cannot trust those people, who are committed to protecting us all, whom can we trust?

It would be a bit strange for us to continue to pursue what, by all appearances, is an injustice or an unwarranted path and claim that we will hold a public inquiry and ask individuals to break the law by coming here to disclose everything they know about the topic, including secrets and intelligence that are matters of national security.

I hope there will be an inquiry into foreign interference in Canada. Can we recognize the fact, though, that such an inquiry will include a public portion and a portion behind closed doors? I am willing to do that, but no one in the opposition has said so. I want people to say this instead of constantly demanding full transparency and inquiries that are 100% public.

I can see at least one member of the opposition nodding his head and I congratulate him. He needs to speak up though. That has not been stated in the motions presented thus far, since they refer to a public inquiry only.

An opposition MP just said off mike that the Maher Arar inquiry was a public inquiry. Let me repeat with my microphone on so that all Canadians understand my reaction and what I am about to say: there were actually two parts to that inquiry: one public and one behind closed doors to examine classified information. This is extremely important.

If that model were suggested, I would have no problem supporting it. I hope that is the model that the independent special rapporteur will recommend to the Prime Minister. I am confident that that person, a prominent Canadian, will provide an overview of the situation and make recommendations to the Prime Minister, who has agreed to follow them to the letter. Canadians can trust us because we will do what is best, without partisanship. I hope all my colleagues will be delighted to support the work of the independent special rapporteur. It is important.

Let me conclude with one final point, but I will certainly have more to say later on. We should not rely on the information that was disclosed, for a number of reasons. First, the officials told us that, even if that information were valid, it is just partial information and describes just part of the picture. Secondly, they also said that the conclusions drawn by the journalists and certain members of the opposition were false. Finally, if we continue to rely on information that the officials said is inaccurate, that might tarnish the reputation of certain elected officials or even an entire community.

I am not making this up: this kind of thing has happened in the past.

We already suffered a national disgrace when certain information about Maher Arar was disclosed by journalists. It was a grave injustice in 2002‑03, which continued until 2005‑06, and would still be an injustice today.

Let us use what happened in the past to guide us. Let us not repeat the errors of the past. Let us be innovative and make new mistakes.

For all these reasons, I implore my opposition colleagues to take a different approach.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

1:25 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bardish Chagger

Thank you, Mr. Fergus.

Mr. Duncan, thank you for your patience.

1:25 p.m.


Eric Duncan Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Thanks, Madam Chair.

This afternoon, as Canadians watch either online or through a different form, it's important for us to make the case here and provide a context for where we're at.

We are now 17 hours into a Liberal filibuster to avoid having the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Katie Telford, appear before this committee. We are getting near six hours today alone in which we've had Liberal members of Parliament come to the committee and talk about their work history and some of the traffic they've had in their constituency office. We've just had members reading from a book into the record to delay a vote on something that....

Frankly, we talk about being non-partisan. That was alluded to several times. We have Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP ready to vote right now and call the question to have the Prime Minister's chief of staff come and answer questions on the election interference by Beijing, and that portfolio, at the procedural affairs committee.

One of the things I wanted to put on the record today, as a lot has been said on the other side in the dither and delay of things, is that the Liberals act as if this is absolutely abnormal and unheard of to have the Prime Minister's chief of staff appear before a committee. I want to remind Canadians, and the Liberal members as they cite that, Katie Telford has, in fact, appeared twice at parliamentary committees during her tenure as the Prime Minister's chief of staff.

We remember, back in the summer of July 2020, she was forced to appear at the finance committee regarding the WE Charity scandal. The national scandal that emerged, the PMO's role in that and who knew what and when, as that all went along. She appeared a second time at the defence committee in May 2021 on the scandal of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military, having to answer questions about the Prime Minister's Office, what it knew and what it did, or didn't do, in those cases.

She has appeared twice before. Again, we are saying that, considering the context and considering the stunning news reports that have come out from whistle-blowers, it is absolutely appropriate and necessary for her to appear before this committee, in a public setting, to answer questions about where we're at.

We are, again, six hours into this meeting, and many Canadians would say it would not be informative. I've actually found today to be very informative. Canadians should draw that same conclusion, because every passing hour, every single MP that gets into the queue talks and reads the phonebook into the record about what's going on here, instead of calling the question for the vote and having this issue resolved.

We've now spent 16 to 17 hours trying to have Katie Telford appear for three hours. She could have been here nearly six times over and been done with it. At the end of the day, the question that Canadians have.... They've learned a lot, because every speaker that goes up, every hour that passes without the vote and resolution of this, Canadians ask the rightful question: What is the government hiding? What are the Liberals hiding? What is the Prime Minister hiding? What is the chief of staff in the Prime Minister's Office hiding, and why won't she come forward?

When we talk about the reasons why the Liberals are delaying this, the firm reason is that I don't think it's good news. If Canadians knew what actually happened, and more importantly what didn't happen, when these serious allegations came forward to the Prime Minister and the PMO's attention, what they didn't do would be an embarrassment to them.

I think it's time to call the question. I was in municipal politics back in the day, and we called the question. Let's end the debate, and let's end the filibuster. Let's call the vote.

We are absolutely, on this side, ready to go. It is absolutely reasonable to have Katie Telford appear at this committee. She has done so before, when there has been a scandal emerging of national importance. In this case, it is of national and international importance.

Let's call the question. Let's get her here, and let's get answers. It's as simple as that.

1:25 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bardish Chagger

Mr. Duncan, I appreciate that.

What's kind of interesting to me about that comment is that I always maintain a speakers list, and when there's nobody on the list, I tend to call the question. The very last time I did that, members on that side were really upset that I was calling the question, when my list had been exhausted. I take the advice you have provided to me. I hope that members will come to an understanding, or a way to call the question. I, too, look forward to that happening.

Next, we have Mr. Turnbull, Ms. Lambropoulos, Mr. Fergus and Mr. Gerretsen on the list, but just before we get to Mr. Turnbull, I'm going to take a quick 15-minute health break.

I'm going to call it a 10-minute break, because I know it always takes 15 minutes. I'll see you shortly.

I'll suspend for 10 minutes.

4:30 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bardish Chagger

Welcome back.

As I mentioned, our speaking list is Mr. Turnbull, followed by Mr. Gerretsen and then Mr. Fergus.

Mr. Turnbull, the floor is yours.

4:30 p.m.


Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair. I appreciate that, and I appreciate the attention of my colleagues.

I have a lot to say today. I've been doing a lot of research on this topic. As always, I pride myself on reading a lot and trying to learn as much as I can about such an important topic.

I do appreciate my colleagues' trying to get to a point of consensus on this committee. I put forward an amendment to Mr. Cooper's motion in a good-faith attempt to extend this study a little more and to have a few other witnesses come before the committee.

I think Mr. Gerretsen was right to point out in his remarks that the leader of the official opposition, years ago, made many of the arguments we have been making. It's funny how the Conservatives have pointed out, quite a few times in our deliberations on various topics, that the Conservatives seem to switch positions when it's good and convenient for them.

Pierre Poilievre has argued for ministerial accountability, MP Julian from the NDP also made that argument in previous meetings, and now we seem to have a complete 180° on that. I don't understand why members want to do that, when we've covered the fact that, during an election within the caretaker convention, there are public officials who oversee the panel and the protocol. All of those officials have come before this committee.

Within the rest of the time, there are ministers who are responsible for the all-of-government approach, which is referred to by Rosenberg as the “electoral ecosystem approach”. It's clear to me that those ministers are accountable and have come before this committee. If there are any who haven't come, I'm sure they would be willing. All we would have to do is make those requests, if they haven't been made already.

Instead, we see an attempt to make this a partisan undertaking, and it shouldn't be. There are those of us who have been working on election interference, including the leadership of our government, for many years. The last intervention I made was quite substantive. I took the time to read through all the various reports. I came up with an outline, year by year, of all the things that our government has done either to try to prevent foreign election interference or to combat, essentially, interference in our democracy and democratic institutions as a whole. There is much work that's been done.

Again, I will not let people just say things that are completely false. The things that the opposition parties have said are not true. In particular, the Conservatives have said over and over again that the Trudeau government hasn't done anything. Well, that's not true. That's patently false. It's false on every level, and I will never stop saying it's false. You'll never get me to agree with that because it's just false.

I have many examples, counter-arguments and substantive steps that we have taken to combat foreign election interference. Therefore, you're never going to get me to lay down and just accept the fact that you guys are going to propagate falsehoods. To me, that is what's happening here.

We also heard from the Leader of the Opposition recently. In the press gallery, he was giving remarks to what I think was a hypothetical question that a reporter asked. Mr. Poilievre said, “The question...was...would [I] go in and...get briefed about secrets of the state...the answer I gave was 'Of course not, because then they would use that to silence me from speaking out any further.' It would then become illegal for me to speak out.”

I don't know about you, but I just find it shocking that the leader of the official opposition, who claims over and over again to want to get to the truth of the allegations that have circulated in the media, would not want to get a briefing on these matters if he were given the opportunity to get to the truth.

Is he really committed to getting the truth or is he more interested in casting stones at Justin Trudeau and our government, all else be damned, basically? That's how I read that statement. I don't know about others, but certainly it doesn't reflect well on the leader of the official opposition in terms of actually getting to the truth in this matter.

I really [Technical difficulty—Editor] Mr. Duncan's ploy to try to appeal to the committee that we're blocking this or blocking that. We're not. We're actually speaking—

4:30 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Bardish Chagger

Excuse me, Mr. Turnbull.

I'm not sure what it is, but your Internet tends to be a little unstable. You cut in and out. It was going fine until now. I'm not sure if, once again, you want to close some windows or what it might be. I'm going to give you back the floor, but I just want you to be conscious and cognizant of that.

4:30 p.m.


Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

Sure, Madam Chair, and thank you. I'm not sure what I can do about that other than close some windows on my computer, which I will try to do quickly here to see if that helps.

As I was saying.... Can you still hear me, Madam Chair?