The Liberal government is not providing a timeline for a new registry that would require foreign agents to disclose their activities in Canada as the House of Commons returns from its summer break.
In March, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to introduce new legislation to require those working on behalf of foreign governments in Canada to disclose their activities. This promise was made after months of revelations from PKBNEWS and the Globe and Mail about the extent of the Chinese Communist Party’s alleged interference in Canadian affairs.
Public consultations on the “transparency register against foreign influence” ended on May 9 and former Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino said in April that it was “urgent” to fill the gaps in Canada’s defenses against foreign interference operations ahead of the next federal election.
“It’s urgent, yes. But there are concrete recommendations that we can now use,” Mendicino told a House of Commons committee at the time. But four months after the consultations closed, there is no trace of a proposal from the office of the Minister of Public Safety, Dominic LeBlanc.
“There are still consultations to be had, discussions to be had,” said a government source, who was not authorized to speak officially.
When reminded that consultations had ended in early May, the source said the government was determined to “get it right” and that a register of foreign agents was just one part of an initiative broader government aimed at suppressing foreign influence operations.
“There are a lot of moving parts. There are a lot of things happening in the national security space right now,” the source said.
Wesley Wark, a senior fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and a longtime expert on national security, said the lack of movement in the registry could provide ammunition for US politicians. opposition.
“It seems to me that the biggest vector of vulnerability and attack for the opposition parties is precisely what is happening with the foreign influence transparency register,” Wark said in an interview with PKBNEWS last week. last week.
“Progress seems to be a bit stalled on this issue, and I think the Conservatives in particular are going to put pressure on the government on this. Why is this moving slowly? Does the government really intend to keep its promises and commitments in this regard? And the government will be defensive on this point, I think. »
Revelations about the Chinese government’s alleged influence operations in Canada created a political storm for the government earlier this year. For months, Trudeau and his cabinet resisted calls for a full public inquiry into the matter – instead appointing former governor general David Johnston as a “special rapporteur” authorized to review the top-secret intelligence.
Johnston spoke out against a full public inquiry, but was driven from his role by conservative allegations that he was too close to the Trudeau family.
While Ottawa’s attention is now focused on issues of housing and affordability, the issue of foreign interference in Canadian affairs is not going away, thanks in part to multiple public and closed-door inquiries.
The public inquiry (in a hurry)
After months of delay and against the explicit recommendation of its own special rapporteur, the Liberal government agreed to hold a public inquiry into foreign interference in Canadian elections.
LeBlanc appointed Quebec Court of Appeal judge Marie-Josée Hogue to lead the investigation on September 7, after months of negotiations with senior opposition politicians. The all-party consensus on Hogue’s nomination should protect her from the level of partisan criticism Johnston has faced.
That doesn’t mean Hogue will have it easy.
Hogue has little experience in national security and has a very tight schedule. She is expected to provide a cla*sified preliminary report to the government by February 29, 2024. In the four months that pa*s, she will have to create the commission, hold public hearings, review reams of evidence and draw her conclusions.
Even if the partisan jousting around foreign interference subsides in the coming months, the investigation will still face intense scrutiny in terms of how Hogue conducts the investigation, how agencies governments will cooperate with the investigation and, ultimately, what it will recommend.
“We want to ensure that the government fully cooperates with Judge Hogue and her work, providing her with the information she is seeking to find out who knew what and when in the last two elections,” said Michael Chong. , declared in an interview a conservative MP himself targeted by Beijing.
By the time Hogue’s report is made public, the political pressure and media attention around the issue may have subsided. But the report’s findings could reignite the debate among the public, who will likely have a better opportunity to express their feelings in a general election.
In fashion now
Several other parliamentary inquiries
With the return of the House of Commons, parliamentary committees will resume after the summer barbecue circuit and develop their work plans.
On the issue of foreign interference, the committees to watch are the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) as well as the Canada-China Relations Committee.
The PROC concluded in late May that the government should launch a public inquiry. The Liberal-chaired committee also suggested that opposition leaders should obtain the appropriate security clearance in order to read the confidential sections of the Johnson report, which Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre resisted, arguing that it would would prevent us from criticizing the government on the issue, which is not the case. TRUE.
Away from the spotlight, two intelligence watchdogs – the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) and the National Security and Intelligence Review Committee (NSIRA) – have agreed to investigate the issues surrounding foreign interference.
The first NSICOP report on the issue, released without much fanfare a week before the COVID pandemic and quickly forgotten, found that foreign interference posed a serious challenge to Canada and singled out China and Russia as the main culprits. National security observers would add India, Saudi Arabia and Iran to that list.
Both reports will provide crucial information on how Canadian intelligence agencies and government actors dealt with threats and potentially their failures.
What about Han Dong?
Another unresolved issue is the fate of former Liberal MP Han Dong, now an independent. He withdrew from the government caucus after PKBNEWS reported that he discussed delaying the detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig with an official at the People’s Republic of China (PRC) consulate in Toronto.
Although he did not disclose the conversation before media inquiries, Dong denied advocating for the continued detention of the “Two Michaels.” In his interim report, Johnston said Dong did not suggest the PRC extend their detention, but confirmed the conversation took place. Johnston also suggested that media reports may have been based on an early draft of an intelligence memo.
Dong is now suing PKBNEWS. His future in the Liberal caucus remains uncertain, with LeBlanc charged with determining whether the Toronto MP should be allowed to run again under the Liberal banner. LeBlanc said in July that he would meet with Dong to a*sess whether Dong could join the Liberals.
When asked last week if LeBlanc and Dong had met over the summer, LeBlanc’s office sent a boilerplate statement about the government’s steps to combat foreign interference.
“Our government has put in place robust measures to protect our democracy and Canadians from foreign interference,” since 2015, LeBlanc spokesperson Jean-Sébastien Comeau wrote in a statement to PKBNEWS.
Pressed on the issue, a government source said she could not say whether LeBlanc had met with Dong.