That, given that,
(i) the House called on the government to launch a public inquiry into allegations of foreign interference in Canada’s democratic system, on March 23 and May 8, 2023,
(ii) the government did not heed this call, and instead appointed an independent special rapporteur who has recommended against holding a public inquiry, despite noting significant gaps and leaving many questions either unasked or unanswered,
(iii) serious questions have been raised about the special rapporteur process, the counsel he retained in support of this work, his findings, and his conclusions,
(iv) only a full public inquiry can fully restore the confidence of Canadians in the integrity of our democratic institutions,
(a) call on the Right Hon. David Johnston to step aside from his role as special rapporteur, and call on the government to urgently establish a public commission of inquiry which would be,
(i) led by an individual selected with unanimous support from all recognized parties in the House,
(ii) granted the power to review all aspects of foreign interference from all states, including, but not limited to, the actions of the Chinese, Indian, Iranian and Russian governments,
(iii) asked to present its report and any recommendations in advance of the next dissolution of Parliament or, at the latest, at the fixed election date as set by the Canada Elections Act; and
(b) instruct the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to provide a report to the House as soon as possible with a recommendation on who could lead such a commission of inquiry and what its terms of reference should include.
Mr. Speaker, I must say that it is with sadness that I stand here today, when the NDP has to put forward this motion.
The situation around foreign interference is real. It is happening. It is impacting Canadian society. It is impacting us all. It is damaging to our democratic system. It is threatening to some Canadians who are very active in their fight for basic human rights and democracy.
Despite this, the Liberal government does not see the importance of why, in looking into these matters, there should have been a public inquiry right at the outset. Instead, the Prime Minister decided, himself, that the appropriate path forward would be to appoint a special rapporteur.
Now here we are; the special rapporteur has tabled a report, and there are lots of issues with the report and with the entire process. I just want to say on the public record what the NDP is calling for. Our motion essentially calls for these four things: that the independent special rapporteur, the Right Hon. David Johnston, step aside; that the government launch an independent public inquiry on election interference by foreign governments; that the commissioner of the public inquiry be selected with unanimous agreement from the House leaders of all recognized parties; and that a report on the public inquiry be tabled in the House before the next election.
In addition, to get going with this work, the NDP's motion also calls for the House to instruct PROC to report to the House on the terms of reference and a possible commissioner who could lead such a public inquiry. This would allow for the greater pressure that needs to be put on the government in the coming weeks in terms of the need for an inquiry; it would also set the stage to show that this work can and must be done.
Last Friday, I had a classified briefing with CSIS. I was briefed on foreign interference and how I was subjected to it by the Chinese Communist Party. The briefing was very clear in saying that I could not disclose exactly how I was subjected to foreign interference, because that would put in jeopardy the important work the intelligence agency is doing. That is something I obviously would not want to jeopardize. To that end, I am not able or at liberty to share exactly what is happening or how it is happening with regard to my being targeted. However, CSIS made it clear that I am subject to foreign interference and will continue to be a target.
Foreign interference is happening. Whether someone is in support of the Chinese Communist Party, ambivalent about it or opposed to its policies, they could be targeted and subject to foreign interference. We also know that this could happen prior to or during an election, as well as at any period outside of that. We are seeing that unfold.
Some of us are outspoken and have concerns about basic human rights and the genocide of the Uyghurs. Some of us voted in support of the motion in this House in that regard and have concerns about the erosion of the basic law in Hong Kong and the imposition of the national security law, for example. Such people need to be ever vigilant in terms of attempts of foreign-interference actors working to coerce, to co-opt, to reorient, to neutralize or even to try to silence our voices.
Coming out of this briefing, what is clear to me is that the fight for people whose human rights are being violated, who are being silenced and even threatened, is more important than ever. We must do everything we can to protect Canadians' charter rights and our fundamental right of freedom, with the freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom for peaceful assembly, freedom of association, freedom of thought and freedom of beliefs. The very essence of what makes us whole as people is to enjoy those freedoms and to protect them for Canadians, and not only for Canadians, but also for people around the globe. This is why we are here. This is the important work that is before us. I am here to say that, despite threats of foreign interference, I will not be deterred from fighting for those rights and fighting for the people who do not enjoy those rights.
It is more important than ever that Canada and the Canadian government do everything we can to protect our democracy and our cherished fundamental freedoms for all Canadians and people around the globe. I want to send a clear message to everyday Canadians who have families and loved ones in Hong Kong and in China; it is that I know their fear is real and the dangers their families face are real. For that reason, I am saying very clearly that I recommit myself to stand with them, to fight with them and to demand action from the government to protect them.
Canadians deserve answers. They deserve accountability and, yes, they deserve protection. This is not just for members of Parliament, like me, who have privilege in this place, but for everyday Canadians as well. They too are faced with foreign interference. The work that has been done so far is inadequate. Right at the outset, the Prime Minister made a misstep. However, it is not too late; he could make a correction and do what is right to rebuild the confidence of Canadians around this process.
I read Mr. Johnston's report, cover to cover, several times. I did not want to misunderstand or miss the point that had been made. He made a number of recommendations. One of the key recommendations was that he would not recommend a public inquiry. He stated that this would have been the easy thing for him to do. With all due respect, I disagree. I actually think that for Mr. Johnston to say that there needs to be a public inquiry and that there should be one would have been the hard thing for him to do.
I say that because he would be saying to the Prime Minister point-blank that the process the Prime Minister had chosen was categorically wrong. He would be saying that it was the wrong process and that the Prime Minister should not have embarked on it. Moreover, it would indicate that Mr. Johnston himself should perhaps not have accepted that appointment. I understand that it would be a hard thing to do to call out the Prime Minister. We do it every day in this House because it is our job; however, I guess that when one is appointed by the Prime Minister to do a job, it is a much harder path to take, to say that it is the wrong path to take. Mr. Johnston chose the easier way and did not call out the Prime Minister; instead, he said he would carry on the work, even though he should have known that he does not enjoy the confidence of all members of this House. If he did not know, he definitely should know that by now.
In his report, Mr. Johnston notes how important it is to undertake this work so that it is entirely non-partisan, and he says that we need the co-operation of all members of the House. I absolutely agree with that. In my previous speech, I pleaded with members of the House to set aside partisan politics and to engage on the issue. Recognizing the importance of that, Mr. Johnston noted it in his report; however, we are in a situation where, for a variety of reasons, Mr. Johnston does not enjoy the full confidence of every member of this House. The latest of these is the discovery that his legal adviser donated to the Liberal Party.
That surely should have been flagged, as Mr. Johnston was putting together his team, but it was not flagged. The team went on to carry on with this work. The legal adviser was a key member of the team in reviewing the documents from CSIS. How can it be that this went unnoticed? How is it even possible that, now that it is on the public record, there is no further action to be taken after the fact?
The basic principle of the appearance of conflict alone would suffice for someone to say, “I made an error and, therefore, I will now step away.” That did not happen, so now we are in this House and the NDP's motion is calling for Mr. Johnston to step down.
We have to do this work right. It is too important for us not to embark on a proper process, one that every Canadian has confidence in and one that is devoid of partisan politics. Mr. Johnston knows that much of the information he and his team have reviewed from CSIS could not be disclosed because it would put national security in jeopardy. I understand that. I do. I had my briefing. I was also told that there is much information I cannot share. I absolutely understand not wanting to jeopardize national security, but precisely because of that, the person who is looking at these documents needs to be a person whom everyone has their trust in. I am sorry to say that Mr. Johnston does not enjoy that confidence.
That is a reality. No amount of talking will change that. No amount saying that we are going to look forward instead of backward, that we are going to just plough forward and push through, is going to change that. That is now a reality, and the truth is that we must change the situation so that those facts are no longer relevant in moving forward. That is why we must have a public inquiry.
I am going to take a moment to turn to another aspect of the work that Mr. Johnston has provided, and what he stated in his report, which is on the question of who is reviewing the documents from the PMO. It was astounding to me. He noted the communication breakdown and the flaws within the system, and it kind of took my breath away to realize what a fiasco that whole process was, to be sure.
I will touch on this. Mr. Johnston states, “I have found that the narrative that the government failed to act is not a fair conclusion based on the facts.” However, in his report, he does not explain why that is a fair conclusion. He is simply saying to trust him that it is a fair conclusion. In the report, Mr. Johnston cited the communication challenges, and we have to ask this question: Who set up those poor channels of communications? It was the government itself. In the report, Mr. Johnston cites, “If staffers are away, they may not see the binder that day.” He is referring to the binder from CSIS, the intelligence binder. He is saying that the people reviewing this critical, serious information are staffers. Mr. Johnston does not define exactly what a staffer is, but in this universe, when we talk about “staffers”, they are political appointees. Ministers appoint ministerial staff as staffers. The PMO appoints staffers, who are political appointees the PM appoints in his office. That is how we generally understand the term “staffer”.
However, we have to ask why on earth a staffer would be reviewing top secret documents from CSIS. In what universe is that normal? That is not normal. That is not okay. That does not take seriously the work of the intelligence agency. I would argue that it is more than that the government, somehow, is botching the whole communications process. Right from the outset, in undertaking this work, there was no seriousness to this work. When one puts a staffer at the table like this, the staffer's goal is to look for political damage; that is why they are there, but that should not be how serious documents from CSIS on intelligence are taken. They should not be looked at from the point of view of how to address political damage. However, it seems to me that this is the approach, and I have serious problems with that.
The report talks about the infamous leaked memo, which was reported by Global News on February 8. The report highlights it by saying, “National Security Officials Warned [the] Prime Minister...and his Office More Than a Year Before the 2019 Federal Election That Chinese Agents Were ‘assisting Canadian candidates running for political offices’”. This is what was reported by Global News; it is cited as a heading in the report. The report goes on to indicate that “[a]n early draft of the memorandum contained similar but not identical language to that quotation. That draft was significantly revised before the memorandum went to the Prime Minister.” I have to ask whether the rapporteur asked these key questions: Who saw the draft memo? Who was the draft memo prepared for? Who changed it, and why? We do not have any answers to that. The report is completely silent on that. However, I think that it is pertinent information.