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Canadian gov't launches public inquiry into foreign election interference, taps judge as commissioner

After months of deliberations, the federal government is launching a public inquiry into foreign election interference, and has found a judge to lead it.

Minister of Public Safety, Democratic Institutions and Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc announced Tuesday that Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue will serve as commissioner to lead the probe, which will look beyond China to include other foreign meddling.

“Justice Hogue will be tasked with examining and assessing interference by China, Russia, and other foreign states and non-state actors, including any potential impacts to confirm the integrity of, and impacts on, the 2019 and 2021 general elections at the national and the electoral district levels,” LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc said Hogue will have “full access” to all relevant cabinet documents, as well as any other documents she deems necessary, with the goal of tabling an interim report by Feb. 29, 2024, a few days shy of six months from now.

Hogue’s final report is due by the end of next year.

“In addition to examining and assessing interference by China, Russia and other foreign state and non-state actors, Justice Hogue will also look at the flow of information to senior decision makers, including elected officials,” LeBlanc said.

In a statement, Hogue said she is “honoured” to take on the role of commissioner, and that she will provide next steps on the inquiry “in due course.”

This development comes after several months of opposition parties and some national security stakeholders calling for a full public inquiry, amid heightened attention on alleged attempts by China to meddle in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

When asked why the commission’s scope has been expanded to include actors other than China, LeBlanc said “China is not the only foreign actor that seeks to undermine democratic institutions in Canada or other Western democracies” and “this challenge is not unique to Canada.”

He added the goal is for Hogue to “have the ability to follow the evidence,” possibly beyond China.

The spring decision by then-special rapporteur David Johnston not to recommend an inquiry—citing the inability to satisfy the concerns of Canadians due to the national security limitations on making key details public—drew swift criticism.

LeBlanc said it will be up to Hogue to determine which aspects of the inquiry are public versus in camera.

But, he said, all the political parties are in agreement that “the commission begin by public hearings so that Canadians will understand why certain highly classified intelligence information has to be treated, by law, in a confidential manner.”

“The commission has all of the powers in order to study that information in the appropriate way,” LeBlanc added. “She will in her judgment, based on the legal advice the commission would receive from the commission lawyers that she will select in her independent way, decide how and what hearings will be made public. The government is dictating none of that.”

Despite the classified nature of the issue, Hogue does not have national security experience, but LeBlanc said she is “a senior judge of one of Canada’s most senior courts” and all the opposition parties agree with her appointment.

“We believe Justice Hogue has all of the necessary experience, credentials and judgment to lead this important work,” he said. “That view was shared by some of the country’s most senior jurists with whom we’ve spoken. Some of them have suggested there is value also in finding a senior credible Justice who comes to this issue with a fresh set of eyes, without a series of detailed experiences in this very space.”


On the heels of Johnston’s resignation in May, the Liberals showed new openness to a public process and LeBlanc began engaging in negotiations with the other parties on a suitable structure and official to lead the inquiry.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted that his government would move forward with a “robust inquiry into foreign interference of all different types” despite reported issues locking in someone to lead it.

Throughout these deliberations the Liberals have said they wouldn’t be proceeding with an inquiry until there was “full buy-in” from the other parties, an effort to strip out as much of the politics as possible after the government’s first attempt crumbled under partisan scrutiny.

LeBlanc called the extent of consultation and negotiation processes with opposition parties “unprecedented.”

“Our work together sends a clear signal to Canadians that democratic institutions are strong and are resilient,” LeBlanc said.

“We think we have arrived, with the full support of the opposition, at the best person to lead this inquiry,” he also said. “Justice Hogue came to us highly recommended by other jurists, obviously her chief justice, the chief justice of Quebec, was very supportive, so we look forward to this work commencing as quickly as she can get the commission up and running.”

In a statement released Thursday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said his party “forced” the government to call a public inquiry, and accused the Liberals of trying to “hide and cover up the truth.”

“But today, our demand for a public inquiry into this interference has finally been met,” Poilievre wrote.

Poilievre wrote that China has been “trying to undermine Canadian democracy for years,” and accused Trudeau of refusing “to take any meaningful action.”

“Protecting our democracy must be our first priority, and Conservatives will always stand up for Canada,” Poilievre also wrote.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also took credit for “forcing” the Liberals to call an inquiry, telling reporters Thursday his party has been leading the charge on a formal probe since last February, and saying “it’s turned out for the good.”

“We want to make sure that people have trust in our democratic institutions,” Singh said. “And that's why we've always believed that a public inquiry was the right way to go.”

“So I want folks to know that we will continue to work as hard as we can to deliver for Canadians, while the Liberals continue to deny there's a problem and disappoint you, while the Conservatives continue to blame and complain,” he added.

Bloc Quebecois House Leader Alain Terrien told reporters Thursday that Hogue’s appointment is “good news for democracy” and said she is both “competent” and “rigorous.”

In a statement, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said his party has worked “constructively and in good faith” throughout the negotiations, and he’s satisfied with the outcome.

As parties have spent the summer discussing next steps, a former RCMP officer has been charged with foreign interference-related offences for allegedly helping China identify and intimidate an individual, and a Canadian monitoring system has detected a likely China-backed "information operation" targeting Conservative MP Michael Chong.

According to the Quebec Court of Appeal website, Hogue was appointed to her current position in 2015. She studied law at l’Université de Sherbrooke and was admitted to the Bar of Quebec in 1987.

Before becoming a judge, her primary areas of practice were corporate commercial litigation, civil litigation, and professional liability, the Quebec Court of Appeal website states.

Speaking in Singapore Thursday, Trudeau said Canada and China’s relationship remains strained as a result of “real concerns around foreign interference.”

Asked about whether news will soon be coming on a foreign agent registry the government has also been consulting on, the prime minister indicated that was a more “complex” file.



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