Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday he will “willingly” testify before the public inquiry into foreign election interference if he’s asked.
“Willingly and with very much enthusiasm,” Trudeau told reporters at a news conference in Singapore.
“I think it’s important for Canadians to know exactly everything this government has been doing in regards to foreign interference and to talk frankly about the challenges that we continue to face in our democracies around the world.”
Following a series of media reports, Trudeau’s government has faced sharp criticism over how it handled and responded to intelligence about China’s alleged meddling in the past two federal elections.
While the prime minister and his senior advisers have denied some of the allegationsin May the government did confirm that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had in 2021 detected a plot by China to intimidate Conservative MP Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong. The federal government later expelled Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei in response.
While intelligence officials said the alleged interference did not compromise the integrity of the 2019 and 2021 elections, opposition MPs argued that a public inquiry would be the only way to maintain Canadians’ confidence in the electoral system.
On Thursday, Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced that Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue had been tapped to lead a highly anticipated public inquiry into foreign interference.
Details of the inquiry — such as when the hearings will start, how much of Hogue’s work will be made public and who will be on the witness list — haven’t been settled.
The independent inquiry is tasked with investigating reports of interference by China, Russia, other foreign states and non-state actors in the 2019 and 2021 elections. Hogue also has been asked to look at how intelligence flowed to decision-makers in the context of the past two elections.
China has denied the allegations. In a statement late Thursday, the embassy in Ottawa accused the Canadian government of continuing to “hype up the lies” of Chinese interference.
“China strongly deplores and firmly opposes this,” said the statement.
“With ulterior political motives, some Canadian politicians and media have been spreading lies and disinformation against China for a long time.”
WATCH | Ottawa launches public inquiry into Beijing-backed meddling
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Hogue officially becomes commissioner on Sept. 18. Her interim report is due by the end of February and her final report is expected by the end of 2024.
That timeline has been questioned, given the short time remaining before the next federal election.
The Liberals’ minority government could fall on a vote of confidence in the House of Commons, sending Canadians to the polls early. The NDP has agreed to support Trudeau’s government on key Commons votes until June 2025 in exchange for progress on New Democrat priorities — but the fourth-place party could always pull its support. Trudeau could also ask the governor general to dissolve Parliament if he chooses to trigger an election himself.
Richard Fadden, who served as head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and as national security adviser to two prime ministers, told CBC News Thursday he hopes the government doesn’t wait for Hogue’s final report before acting.
“There are a number of areas” where the need for action is “pretty obvious,” Fadden said, pointing to calls for a foreign agent registry.
Speaking in Singapore, Trudeau pointed to that fact that Hogue’s interim report is due early next year.
“There will be time to listen to what is said there,” he said.
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