Cost of foreign interference probe nears $1.9 million; $1.7M goes to law firm
A Toronto-based law firm was awarded a nearly $4.5 million contract to work on former special rapporteur David Johnston's ill-fated foreign interference probe. The investigation has so far cost taxpayers almost $1.9 million, CTV News has learned.
According to a document tabled in the House of Commons, on the request of Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, law firm Torys LLP signed a $4,496,887.50 contract on April 21 to provide "professional services" during Johnston's investigation, which was sparked by allegations of Chinese efforts to influence Canadian politics. The firm has received more than $1.7 million to date.
"That's just a complete waste of money," Rempel Garner told CTVNews.ca by phone on Thursday. "I hope that the government has answers for that waste to Canadians."
The full cost of Johnston's short-lived term as independent special rapporteur had not been previously released.
In a Friday afternoon response to questions from CTVNews.ca, Canada's Privy Council Office, which is responsible for the contracts, disclosed that a total of $1,895,879.29 has so far been spent on the investigation, excluding taxes. The figure also includes nearly $136,000 for communications support, translation, hospitality costs, personnel and Johnston's per diem.
Johnston, who served as governor general from 2010 to 2017, was named Canada's independent special rapporteur on foreign interference in March. The appointment sparked political backlash over Johnston's apparent connections to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's family and the charitable Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. As part of his work, Johnston hired prominent Torys LLP partner and lawyer Sheila Block, a reported Liberal Party donor.
Torys LLP will likely receive less than the nearly $4.5 million outlined in the contract. According to Canada's Privy Council Office, "expenses are not anticipated to reach the full value of the contract" due to Johnston "finalizing his work earlier than expected."
In a Friday email to CTVNews.ca, a Privy Council Office spokesperson explained that costs incurred under the Torys LLP contract had reached $1,759,931.94 to date, excluding taxes.
"The Torys LLP contract is open, should the firm be requested to provide any further information in relation to the work completed on the Independent Special Rapporteur file," the Privy Council Office spokesperson said.
At least $107,708.65 has also been spent on personnel, translation and hospitality – including Johnston's per diem of between $1,400 and $1,600 a day. Johnston spent less than three months on the job and resigned with more than six months left in his term.
Ottawa-based communications firm RKESTRA was additionally awarded a $28,238.70 contract for media relations and communications support.
Both the Torys LLP and RKESTRA contracts were sole-sourced. Together they were worth more than $4.5 million.
Torys LLP provides a range of legal services from offices in Toronto, New York, Calgary, Montreal and Halifax. Block was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2022 for "her trailblazing contributions to law in Canada and abroad, and for her wide-ranging advocacy." Block reportedly donated more than $7,500 to the federal Liberal Party between 2006 and 2022.
Citing Canada's Privacy Act, the contract document would not disclose details on the services provided by Torys LLP.
Torys LLP also sub-contracted crisis communications firm Navigator to "provide communications advice and support" to the foreign interference investigation.
Toronto-based Navigator is a public relations, lobbying and crisis management firm that has developed a reputation for steering notable Canadians through high-profile scandals — at high prices.
Past clients battling sexual abuse allegations, for example, have included Hockey Canada and disgraced former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi. Former Ottawa Police chief Peter Sloly also hired Navigator during the Freedom Convoy in early 2022 to help with messaging while facing criticism for how he handled the weekslong protest. The company's slogan is: "When you can't afford to lose."
"It is Navigator policy not to comment on our client engagements," a Navigator spokesperson said in an email to CTVNews.ca. "Our work, providing communications advice, in support of Counsel to the Independent Special Rapporteur is a matter of public record."
It is unknown how much Torys LLP paid Navigator for its work. Torys LLP did not respond to a request for comment.
Rempel Garner received the contract information through what is known as an order paper question. Similar to freedom of information requests, order paper questions allow members of Parliament to pose questions and get written responses from the government. The response was tabled in Parliament on Sept. 18.
"Why did I put that order paper question in?" Rempel Garner, member of Parliament for Calgary Nose Hill, said. "So that the public can be aware of these expenditures and we can hold (the government) to account for them."
Johnston released his initial report on foreign interference in May and ruled out a public inquiry. Citing "serious questions" with his mandate and conclusions, opposition MPs voted for Johnston to "step aside" from his rapporteur role soon after in a non-binding majority vote that both Johnston and the Liberal government rejected.
After months of negotiations with opposition parties following Johnston's later resignation, Canada launched a public inquiry into foreign interference in September. Trudeau named Quebec judge Marie-Josée Hogue to act as commissioner. Her work began this week on Monday.
"The government should have entered into an inquiry nine months ago," Rempel Garner added. "The delay and the expenditure is not the type of action that inspires confidence in the public that the government is on top of important issues of matters of national security."
With files from CTV News Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello
This story has been updated with statements from Canada's Privy Council Office.