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LeBlanc stops short of directing commission of inquiry to name meddling MPs

OTTAWA — Democratic Institutions Minister Dominic LeBlanc affirmed a plan Wednesday to have an ongoing commission of inquiry delve into allegations about MPs colluding with foreign meddlers.
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Minister of Public Safety, Democratic Institutions and Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc arrives to appear before the Senate Standing Committee on National Security, Defence and Veterans Affairs in Ottawa, on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

OTTAWA — Democratic Institutions Minister Dominic LeBlanc affirmed a plan Wednesday to have an ongoing commission of inquiry delve into allegations about MPs colluding with foreign meddlers.

But LeBlanc stopped short of accepting a demand from one senator to give commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue the power to publicly name MPs involved in interference.

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians said in a public report last week that some MPs wittingly assisted the efforts of foreign states to interfere in Canadian politics.

Under questioning at a committee from Sen. Claude Carignan, LeBlanc said the government would give Hogue the "appropriate mandate" to examine the issue of possible meddling by MPs.

But LeBlanc said in French the notion of the commission publicly disclosing names is "an issue of law," adding he did not want to "advance an opinion to a judge as important" as Hogue, who sits on the Quebec Court of Appeal.

Carignan said Hogue must be given "the power to name people if violations, or offences, have been committed," along with the power to refer matters so that criminal investigations can take place.

LeBlanc replied, "It's not a question that can be answered with a yes or no."

The minister indicated Hogue would be provided with the necessary documentation to explore the issues, but not explicit direction to make findings about the culpability of individual MPs.

The House of Commons voted Tuesday in favour of a Bloc Québécois motion to have the federal inquiry examine the unproven accusations.

The intelligence watchdog report said foreign states engage in sophisticated and pervasive interference, specifically targeting Canada’s democratic processes and institutions before, during and after elections in all orders of government.

It said China and India "are the most active perpetrators."

But the watchdog's findings about the possible disloyalty of certain politicians have prompted much hand-wringing.

The Green Party's Elizabeth May, who has top secret-level security clearance, said Tuesday she was "vastly relieved" after reading an unredacted version of the intelligence watchdog report.

May, co-leader of the Greens, said she believes the small number of MPs named in the report did not knowingly set out to betray Canada.

She said one unnamed former MP accused in the report of proactively sharing privileged information with a foreign operative should be investigated by authorities.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet have also signalled their desire to be briefed on the full intelligence watchdog report.

Singh was slated to see the unredacted report late Wednesday and speak to the media Thursday about what he has learned.

Singh has said that if the report shows any New Democrat MP knowingly took part in meddling, he would remove them from caucus. He has suggested other party leaders take the same approach.

Asked if he would use his parliamentary privilege to divulge the report's detailed findings in the House of Commons, Singh said Wednesday he would "not do anything that jeopardizes national security."

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has not taken steps to acquire the security clearance needed to read the full report.

As they met for their weekly caucus meeting Wednesday, Conservative MPs did not stop to answer questions about whether Poilievre should read the unredacted report.

Liberal MP David McGuinty, who chairs the spy watchdog composed of parliamentarians, said national security and intelligence should not be a partisan issue.

"I think the leaders can come together, have an adult conversation about how can we deal with this in our own parties?" he said Wednesday.

McGuinty noted the report highlighted that political nomination and leadership contests are vulnerable to foreign meddling. "So why don't we get our leaders together to address this?"

He also urged people to take a broader view of the foreign interference problem.

"The stakes are huge," he said. "Our democracy is on the line."

The Senate committee is studying a wide-ranging federal bill on foreign interference, which the government hopes will pass before the parliamentary summer break.

The legislation would introduce new criminal provisions against deceptive or surreptitious acts, allow for the sharing of sensitive information with businesses and others beyond government, and establish a foreign influence transparency registry.

The bill recognizes that states and other foreign entities that engage in interference to advance political goals might employ people to act on their behalf, without disclosing those ties.

The transparency registry would require certain individuals to register with the federal government to help guard against such activity.

At committee Wednesday, LeBlanc defended the government's decision to make the registry "country agnostic," meaning it will not be targeted at known state adversaries such as China.

LeBlanc said the federal approach would avoid the registry becoming a blacklist. In addition, the government will not need to update the roster of countries or manage calls to add or remove certain states.

"You can imagine the pressure to take this country off, add this country — that would be the discussion constantly," LeBlanc said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 12, 2024.

— With a file from Stephanie Taylor

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press


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