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Special rapporteur David Johnston's office hired crisis communications firm Navigator

Canada's special rapporteur on foreign interference has hired crisis communications firm Navigator, his office confirmed on Friday.

In an email to CTV News, a spokesperson for special rapporteur David Johnston explained that Navigator was hired at the start of Johnston's mandate "to provide communications advice and support."

"In accordance with the Terms of Reference and Treasury Board policies, the Independent Special Rapporteur is authorized to incur necessary expenses to conduct an independent review," spokesperson Valérie Gervais said. "Navigator has had no involvement in the (special rapporteur)'s investigation or the development of his conclusions, and has not been privy to any classified materials."

Toronto-based Navigator is a public relations, lobbying and crisis management firm. Its slogan is "When you can't afford to lose” and the firm 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 weeks-long protest.

Gervais says Navigator has been responsible for media interview planning, social media analysis, and drafting communications material like press releases.

Ottawa-based communications firm RKESTRA --- which Gervais is the founder and CEO of --- was also hired to provide media relations support, Johnston’s office said. Johnston has additionally retained law firm Torys LLP and partner Sheila Block.

Johnston's office has not yet disclosed what this is all costing taxpayers. The ex-vice regal himself is receiving a per diem of between $1,400 and $1,600 per day, and also has staff, travel and "other reasonable expenses" covered. Hockey Canada has admitted that it paid Navigator more than $1.6 million for assistance after it was revealed that the national hockey organization was using player registration fees to cover settlements in sexual abuse allegation cases.

Johnston served as Canada's governor general from 2010 to 2017 after being appointed by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. His appointment to the special rapporteur role in March stems from allegations of Chinese efforts to influence Canadian elections.

But Johnston’s appointment to the role has drawn scrutiny from opposition MPs who say he has a conflict of interest. The former governor general has said he has known Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's family for decades and would have first met Trudeau when the Liberal prime minister was still a child. Johnston has also been involved with the charitable Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, which once accepted a $200,000 donation from a Chinese businessman with ties to the Chinese government and has also been at the centre of foreign interference allegations.

Johnston released his initial report on foreign interference last week 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 in a non-binding majority vote that both Johnston and the Liberal government have rejected.

On social media Friday evening, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said she was scratching her head at the move to hire Navigator.

"Filing an Order Paper Question immediately to see if taxpayers are paying for this," Rempel Garner tweeted. "Must have been one hell big $ contract."

With files from Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello



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