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Johnston report: Trudeau’s offer to read Johnston’s confidential annex rejected


OTTAWA-

The leaders of the two main federal opposition parties reject Justin Trudeau’s invitation to receive security clearances to examine the confidential annex of the report of special rapporteur David Johnston, prompting the Prime Minister to accuse them of hiding behind “a veil of ignorance”.

On Tuesday, while stressing the real threat posed by foreign election interference and the need to close serious intelligence gaps, Johnston recommended against conducting a public inquiry into the federal government’s handling of the issue. . Instead, it plans to conduct more forward-looking public hearings.

In making this assessment, he compiled a “confidential appendix” that addressed the key interference allegations and relevant intelligence documents that led Johnston to this conclusion.

This special addendum has been provided to the Prime Minister, with the recommendation that it be shared with opposition party leaders, provided they receive the top secret security clearance necessary to review it.

Trudeau said on Tuesday he had written to his opposition counterparts to start the clearance process so they could see the same full picture as he did, but that offer was quickly rebuffed, with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and the leader of the Bloc Québécois Yves-François Blanchet refusing to continue reading the secret information.

“It’s a trap,” Blanchet said Wednesday, speaking to reporters in Ottawa.

Although Blanchet has said he’s not taking Johnston’s word for anything, he still won’t pursue reading the same information himself as he believes Trudeau is trying to use the offer to essentially silence opposition party leaders on the matter, as they would be unable to speak publicly about what they learned from accessing the classified material.

“The trap is to say, ‘If you want to see everything, you can’t say or do anything about it,'” Blanchet said. “And then they [the Liberals] will tell everyone that “everything is fixed” because the leaders of the opposition parties have seen something against which they cannot do anything”.

Blanchet, who said Johnston’s report downplays the seriousness of the issue of foreign interference and gives the impression that he is trying to protect secrecy from liberals in power, is now calling for some degree of documentation to be declassified .

“Someone has to make wise and careful decisions about what documents can be made public or not. It can’t be him [Johnston]. Nor can it be the Prime Minister’s Office. It has to be someone independent, with a mandate from Parliament, that’s the only way to do it. Some of these documents can be revealed, others not,” Blanchet said.

Speaking to reporters in Toronto, Poilievre confirmed he would not participate in any top-secret information process, after saying on Tuesday he “will not be silenced.”

He pointed to the leaks that generated much of the reporting of attempted interference in the 2019 and 2021 campaigns as an indication that there are members of Canada’s intelligence community who believe the public should be aware. know more. In his report, Johnston examined several cases of information leaks reported by The Globe and Mail and Global News, concluding that in some cases, information or documents were “misinterpreted in some media reports” because they lacked the context of the situation as a whole, as provided in its appendix.

Poilievre also pledged on Wednesday to launch a public inquiry if the Conservatives form the next government. He said that process would be led by a judge with national security experience and subpoena powers to coerce “all government documents and decide, based on the facts and in our national interest. , how much of it should be public”.

Johnston recommended that his findings be referred to and reviewed by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) and the National Security and Intelligence Review Committee (NSIRA), and that the two oversight bodies make report publicly if they disagree.

Blanchet and Poilievre have indicated that they will not prevent their deputies who sit on NSICOP from participating in the review of this top secret panel.

“A VEIL OF IGNORANCE”

In his report, Johnston said that although he knows that under normal political circumstances an opposition party leader may not want to submit to the constraints of the Information Security Act, “this issue is too important for anyone who aspires to cause the country to intentionally maintain a veil of ignorance on these matters.”

He said that while political parties may disagree and want to continue debating the issue of foreign interference, they should do so “from a common understanding of the actual facts, not as speculated or hypothetical to from media reports based on partial information leaks”.

“These scrutiny reviews should build confidence and ensure Parliament has a stronger basis for the important debates it will have on foreign interference and measures to detect, deter and counter it,” Johnston said.

Echoing that view, Trudeau borrowed some of Johnston’s language on Wednesday, specifically targeting Poilievre, saying he “chose to sit behind a veil of ignorance.”

“He doesn’t want the facts to get in the way of a good political argument or a personal attack. I think Canadians need to ask themselves the question: is this a serious leader? Is this a serious way to handle something so important? as foreign countries trying to game our democracy, our businesses, our diaspora communities,” Trudeau said. “On an issue like this, we have to be fact-based. That’s what this government is doing, that’s what David Johnston has done.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is the only opposition party leader who has expressed an interest in accepting Trudeau’s offer to receive the necessary clearance to view Johnston’s full findings.

He continues to advocate for some form of public inquiry, while acknowledging that it is not possible to share some of the most salient information that might reassure Canadians.

“We believe that Mr. Johnston’s work must continue. He has uncovered important discoveries, and these are the important things that Canadians need to know, but I remain committed that we need a public inquiry,” Singh said on CTV’s Power Play on Tuesday. .

The NDP leader plans to sit down with Trudeau to let him know he plans to use “every tool” at his disposal to continue pushing for an investigation.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May said that although she had not been contacted to participate in Johnston’s review so far, she was willing to review the confidential information and accepted the security limitations.

“Unlike other opposition parties, the Greens have written to the Right Honorable David Johnston requesting access to security-protected documents and backgrounds,” the party said in a statement on Wednesday.

“In our view, having the ability to review backgrounds and highly confidential information is an important aspect of our democratic process,” May said in the statement. “If, after reviewing this information, we still believe a public inquiry is necessary, which I expect us to do, then having full knowledge and greater context is not a barrier to the request for a full public inquiry. Unlike Mr. Poilievre, we believe being fully informed is a strength.”

A last-minute meeting of the procedure and House affairs committee, which has been studying the issue of foreign election interference, has been called for Thursday, with MPs keen to discuss Johnston’s report.


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