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Foreign Affairs Minister insists there are no 'traitors' in Liberal caucus

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Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly insists there are no “traitors” in the Liberal caucus, after a report from the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) alleged there are MPs and senators who are “semi-witting or witting participants” in foreign interference efforts.

“Listen, if that was the case, they would be out of the Liberal caucus, and they should be out of every single party,” Joly told CTV Question Period host Vassy Kapelos in an interview airing Sunday.

NSICOP first released a redacted version of its report nearly two weeks ago, and suspicion on who those parliamentarians may be has dominated debate on Parliament Hill ever since.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh — who received the security clearance to get access to the full classified report this week — concluded “there are a number of MPs who have knowingly provided help to foreign governments.” Singh did not, however, provide details about the number of MPs implicated but said no NDP MPs are among them.

“What they’re doing is unethical,” he told reporters on Thursday. “It is in some cases against the law, and they are indeed traitors to the country.”

When asked multiple times by Kapelos about Singh’s assertion there are “traitors” in Parliament, Joly didn’t directly answer but insisted it’s important not to make the issue partisan.

“When I hear these loaded words, I feel that it's really hurting our democracy,” she said. “Because fundamentally, foreign interference is a real thing. It has been happening for years now. It’s more of an issue because of disinformation, misinformation online, but all democracies in the world are facing this.”

Speaking to reporters at the end of the G7 summit in Italy on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not go as far as Joly, and would not answer repeated questions about whether any current Liberal MPs were named in the NSICOP report.

“The issue of foreign interference is one that this government has taken extremely seriously,” Trudeau said in response to a question about his own members of Parliament.

Trudeau also called into question the findings of the NSICOP report, but would not elaborate on the specifics of those concerns.

“We made clear some concerns we had with the way that NSICOP did, drew conclusions,” he said on Saturday. “I think that is an important part of the process.”

Trudeau received the un-redacted version of the report back in March, and has faced criticism from opposition parties for not taking more action sooner.

The NSICOP report also called the Liberal government's response to the known threat of foreign interference "a serious failure and one from which Canada may feel the consequences for years to come."

One example cited in the report involves Conservative MP Michael Chong.

In May of 2023, The Globe and Mail reported that Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei had targeted Chong and his family after he sponsored a parliamentary motion condemning Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs in 2021. The newspaper obtained the information from a leaked 2021 CSIS assessment that was shared with relevant government departments, including Global Affairs Canada (GAC)..

Joly told Kapelos she also first learned of the meddling allegation, and that Chong had been targeted, in the media.

“I was clear, and that's my story, and I stick to it,” Joly said.

“That being said, following that, we took many measures, because of course, we need to make sure if there is any meddling within our democracy or any form of covert operations by foreign countries in Canada, we need, and I need, to be aware,” she added. “And of course I'll take actions.”

After the Chong story surfaced, Zhao was expelled from Canada and declared “persona non grata.”

The NSCICOP report, however, detailed multiple attempts by CSIS to inform Joly’s department, GAC, of Zhao’s activities, over a number of years. Joly said those intelligence briefings never made their way to her.

When pressed again by Kapelos, based on that, over whether the federal government has taken foreign interference seriously enough, Joly said Canada is the only country to have a public inquiry into the issue.

“What I can tell you is we've been very forward leaning,” she said. “Have we done enough? No. Clearly, that's why you're asking me questions. That’s why people are preoccupied.”

“Will we do more? Of course,” she added. “And we just presented legislation on this issue.”

Justice Marie-Josée Hogue is currently leading the public inquiry into foreign interference. Hogue delivered her first interim report in May, and a final report is expected at the end of the year.

Earlier this week, the Liberals supported a Bloc Québecois motion to expand the foreign interference commissioner’s mandate to include the NSICOP report allegations, though the motion is non-binding, and any decision on whether to include the report in her probe is up to Hogue.

In a statement, Hogue’s office said “she will soon issue a notice to the public regarding the parameters of the Commission’s mandate and the next stage of its work.”

With files from CTV National News Parliamentary reporter Annie Bergeron-Oliver

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