Liberal MP Sahota contradicts PM, foreign minister on reason for Russians' expulsion
Published Sunday, April 8, 2018 7:00AM EDT
OTTAWA – The expulsion of four Russian diplomats from Canada was done solely in solidarity with the United Kingdom, according to Liberal MP Ruby Sahota. Her assertion of this on CTV's Question Period Sunday contradicts what Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have said, and has the opposition to calling for an explanation.
On March 26, Freeland announced that four members of Russia's diplomatic staff were removed from Canada, citing their work as "intelligence officers or individuals who have used their diplomatic status to undermine Canada's security or interfere in our democracy." In addition to this, three applications for additional Russian staff were denied. Freeland also said the move was being made in solidarity with the U.K. over the March 4 nerve agent attack in Salisbury on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
Then on April 4, Trudeau cited a Russian propaganda and misinformation campaign against Freeland as being part of the reason why the diplomats were removed.
"I think we all can remember the efforts by Russian propagandists to discredit our minister of foreign affairs in various ways through social media and by sharing scurrilous stories about her," Trudeau said.
However, during a panel on CTV’s Question Period, Sahota was consistent in saying solidarity with the U.K. was "the only reason" and "directly related" to the diplomats’ ouster.
"When the prime minister made his statement the other day, that was in addition to the issue that we’re already facing. What we’ve been talking about is the expulsion of the Russian diplomats from not just Canada, but from the U.K., for the issue that happened. The nerve agent that was spread in the U.K. is the reason behind the expulsion," she said.
When asked about her comments contradicting Trudeau, referencing the smear campaign against Freeland as part of why the diplomats were removed, Sahota said: "That’s not the reason. I know that may build an interesting news headline, but that’s not the reason." She said Trudeau was citing the propaganda campaign as an example of a "wider attitude that Russia has had."
Sahota also suggested that the Russians may have had a role in "legitimate threats to our elections."
"Have these people interfered and done other things in the past? I mean, those are things that our national security would have information on and those are things that have been hinted to. I think that there have been legitimate threats to our elections and that’s something that we’re taking very seriously and investigating. As the time comes we’ll know more and more, whether there is something that can be done to protect our system," Sahota said.
Responding to a request for more information on Sahota’s statement, the Democratic Institutions Minister’s office said the Liberal MP likely misspoke, meaning to say democracy and not elections.
Last year the CSE issued a report that found that Canada’s democratic process is not immune to potential interference by outside actors, but that to-date it had not observed other states improperly influencing elections.
'Minister will have to answer': Raitt
The opposition MPs on the panel seized on her comments, saying the explanation for the Russians' expulsion has caused more questions than answers.
"Are they spies? What exactly is going on? There’s just a lot of weird things that it’s not clear who knew what when. I think there’s just more questions than answers," NDP public safety critic Matthew Dubé said on CTV’s Question Period.
"I’m not privy to the details, the government is… I just want to know what’s up," Dubé added, referencing Freeland’s statement about the diplomats' alleged diplomatic interference.
"Judging from what Ruby's saying right now I don’t even think the Liberal caucus is clear on what’s going on here…This is something that clearly needs to get a little bit of sunshine put on it, and the House of Commons is the right place to do it, and the minister will have to answer as to exactly why this is happening," said Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt.
"[The] Canadian public deserves to understand what’s at issue here, and what’s at risk," she said.
Raitt said compared to the investigation happening south of the border into whether or not there was interference by the Russians in the U.S. election, Trudeau isn’t taking this seriously.
"Here in Canada, we have an expulsion of four Russian diplomats, a very serious thing to do and the prime minister coming out and saying it’s because somebody said something negative about our foreign minister; look if that were the case, nobody would be sitting in the House of Commons, if saying something bad about somebody else caused you to be expelled," Raitt said.