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Johnston to continue as Special Rapporteur despite ongoing claims from opposition of Liberal bias

By Evan Taylor Jun 6, 2023 | 3:55 PM

Special Rapporteur David Johnston testified before the Parliamentary Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on Tuesday. Photo: CPAC.

Special Rapporteur David Johnston, who was appointed to the role by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, faced a committee hearing today to address allegations of Chinese interference in the federal elections.

The allegations were initially brought to light by Global News and the Globe and Mail.

In his first report, released last month, Johnston disputed some of the claims made in those reports, including one involving Liberal MP Han Dong allegedly urging a Chinese diplomat not to release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor from Chinese custody.

Johnston’s report also dismissed claims that federal candidates received funds from China during the 2019 election campaign. However, he did emphasize the need for improved information flow between cabinet and intelligence agencies and recommended holding public hearings to address governance and policy issues related to foreign interference.

Notably, Johnston ruled out the possibility of a public inquiry due to the presence of classified information that would require private sessions. He assured that the public hearings would involve government representatives, national security officials, and members of the diaspora community. For those concerned about retaliation, Johnston offered the option of providing testimony in-camera or submitting information privately.

During the committee hearing, Conservative MP Michael Chong challenged Johnston’s recommendation against a public inquiry, arguing that it undermines public confidence in democratic institutions. Chong questioned how Johnston planned to restore trust from Canadians in his work. In response, Johnston explained that public inquiries, in the traditional sense, might not be effective in dealing with classified information. He referred to Justice Dennis O’Connor’s opinion on the matter, highlighting the importance of finding appropriate ways to address the issues at hand.

Despite opposition parties voting for Johnston’s resignation, he defended his integrity throughout the hearing. Critics have raised concerns about his past connections to the prime minister’s family and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. However, Johnston stated that he intends to complete his work, emphasizing that his mandate comes from the government.

Additionally, Johnston addressed questions about his relationship with Prime Minister Trudeau. While acknowledging a past friendship with Pierre Trudeau and recreational activities with the Trudeau family, he clarified that he had no recent personal contact with Justin Trudeau. He emphasized his lack of conflict of interest and urged the committee to focus on the issue of foreign interference.

During today’s hearing, Johnston also defended the record of Sheila Block, a lawyer he hired to assist with his mandate, despite reports of her past donations to the Liberal Party. He also mentioned receiving unpaid informal advice from Don Guy and Brian Topp, both former chiefs of staff to liberal politicians in Ontario and Alberta, respectively.


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