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MPs to question special rapporteur David Johnston on foreign interference this morning

David Johnston, tasked earlier this year with investigating foreign interference in Canadian politics, is expected to take pointed questions from MPs later this morning about his report on election meddling — and about claims that he’s unfit for the job because of his connections to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Johnston is scheduled to appear for three hours before the standing committee on procedure and House affairs starting at 10 a.m. ET. CBC News will carry it live.

The former governor general was appointed special rapporteur by Trudeau in March after a series of news stories by Global News and the Globe and Mail alleged the Chinese government engaged in a range of interference operations in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

In his first report, released last month, Johnston disputed several of those reports — including one that alleged Liberal MP Han Dong urged a Chinese diplomat in February 2021 to hold off on releasing Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor from China’s custody, and others that claimed federal candidates received funds from China during the 2019 federal election campaign.

Johnston also reported he did not find evidence that cabinet ministers or Trudeau knowingly ignored intelligence. He did call for improvements to the information flow between cabinet and intelligence agencies.

David Johnston, wearing a dark suit, stands in a stairwell on Parliament Hill.
David Johnston, independent special rapporteur on foreign interference, arrives to present his first report in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 23, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Johnston’s report also ruled out holding a public inquiry; he argued that much of any public inquiry would have to be held in private due to the presence of top-secret information. Johnston’s final report is due at the end of October.

Both Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh disagreed with that call and continue to demand that Trudeau call a public inquiry.

Opposition parties voted for Johnston to resign 

The opposition parties have attacked Johnston’s appointment because of his past connections to the prime minister’s family and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

Last week, the House of Commons passed an NDP motion, with Conservative and Bloc Québécois support, calling for Johnston to be ousted from high-profile role.

WATCH | Should David Johnston step down as special rapporteur?

mps to question special rapporteur david johnston on foreign interference this morning 1

Should David Johnston step down as special rapporteur?

4 days ago

Duration 17:27

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has passed a motion calling for David Johnston to leave his role probing foreign interference allegations, but Johnston says he’s not done as special rapporteur. Plus, what does the boost in RCMP protection for senior government ministers and public servants say about our political climate?

Poilievre accused Johnston of helping “Trudeau cover up the influence by Beijing in our democracy.” Singh has said “the appearance of bias is so strong” that Johnston cannot continue.

Despite the vote, Johnston has said he intends to stay on and finish his work. He said he respects the House’s right to express its opinion but his mandate comes from the government.

Johnston has tried to dismiss criticisms of his independence. He has said that while he was friends with Pierre Trudeau and skied with the Trudeau family back when Justin Trudeau and his brothers were children, their relationship did not extend much further.

Last week, CBC News reported that Johnston has hired crisis communications firm Navigator to provide him with “communications advice and support” at taxpayers’ expense.

Navigator calls itself a “high-stakes strategic advisory and communications firm” that offers a range of services. Its slogan is, “When you can’t afford to lose.”

When asked Monday if hiring a crisis communicator was a good use of public funds, Trudeau defended Johnston and accused Poilievre of participating in “baseless smear jobs.”

“I’m not going to speak to decisions that the independent special rapporteur and his team are making to manage the toxic climate that they’re operating in,” said Trudeau.

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