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Dates of foreign interference briefings revealed, as Telford says she can't 'speak to specifics'


Testifying before a parliamentary committee on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's chief of staff Katie Telford offered few new insights on the issue of foreign interference, though coinciding documents provided to MPs revealed the dates of high-level intelligence briefings provided on this topic between 2018 and 2023.

In documents provided to the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) ahead of Telford's testimony, national security and intelligence adviser (NSIA) Jody Thomas outlined how many times formal briefings were provided to the prime minister, his office, cabinet ministers, and security-cleared political party representatives, and by whom.

Facing a series of questions from MPs, Trudeau's top aide since 2015 was asked about the substance and nature of the briefings she was part of. But, citing the legal limitations she was under, she spoke with caution about what she and Trudeau knew -- and when -- about specific allegations of attempts by China to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 federal campaigns, to keep the Liberals in power.

"I can't, unfortunately, speak to specifics of what the prime minister has or has not been briefed on in all of this. But as I said before, in taking a step back from the specifics of your question, the prime minister has been briefed regularly and gets information in a variety of different ways on what was happening around election interference in the last two elections," Telford said during her two and a half hours of sworn testimony.

"It's frustrating, I know, for me as well. But, it's for very important reasons," she continued, expressing a desire to be as forthcoming as possible, given the need to ensure Canadians' confidence in democratic institutions are upheld.

She spoke about in what contexts — in secure rooms or through secret documents — she and Trudeau have been briefed on interference, stating that if Trudeau receives a document, he "absolutely" reads it.

In the at times tense hearing, MPs also asked her:

  • Whether she thinks a public inquiry is warranted, to which she said she hopes Canadians can be patient to wait for special rapporteur David Johnston's determination on this question, coming within weeks.
  • Whether the leaks of Canadian intelligence information risk Canada's international reputation, to which she said improper release of intelligence "can put lives at risk" and that "it's in Canada's national interest to keep this information protected."
  • And, on specific points reported by Global News regarding dates of certain briefings and allegations that the Chinese government funded at least 11 candidates in the 2019 race, Telford cautioned that some of the reporting on this topic, citing unnamed intelligence sources, either didn't add up, or plainly, has been "inaccurate."

"Intelligence rarely paints a full, concrete, or actionable picture," she told the committee.

Heading into the hearing, the Conservatives framed Telford's appearance as an opportunity for her to either "continue the cover-up, or… provide transparency to Canadians."

After suggesting that Telford's responses invited more suspicion, at the tail end of Friday's hearing -- reading from what appeared to be prepared remarks -- Conservative MP Rachael Thomas accused her of refusing to provide answers. She then told Telford she didn't need to respond to that statement.

"It's interesting that I was accused of silence, then told I wasn't asked a question when I was trying to answer, and further was then being quoted in the statement that was just made, so apparently I did say something," Telford shot back.

The Conservatives weren't the only party to express frustration over the lack of specifics being offered, though speaking to reporters after the meeting, Bloc Quebecois MP Christine Normandin said she was neither satisfied nor unsatisfied.

"We were not expecting that much," Normandin said. "We now know that nothing is hidden from him…" But we still have no information as to who's eventually deciding what information is credible, and who's deciding on the steps to be done with that information."


On Friday, Telford pointed to Trudeau's top national security official Thomas as being the best-placed official to speak on this issue.

“I am a consumer of intelligence, not the one who briefs on intelligence,” she said. "The NSIA is the person who directly reports to the prime minister on these matters. On top of that, for all the reasons outlined today, these matters are extremely sensitive, and the law limits what I can talk about in this public setting." 

Thomas has already testified before PROC, and following up on her appearance a few hours before Telford took the hot seat, she provided the committee new documentation shedding more light on when high-level officials briefed those in power. 

Thomas and Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Director David Vigneault had committed to PROC during their March 1 and March 2 appearances as part of its ongoing foreign election interference study that they'd provide unclassified administrative details about when officials were briefed on Beijing interference efforts in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

What was turned over to the committee did not specify whether the briefings were about a certain country's efforts, in order to "protect their classification". Rather, these briefings were generally about either election interference activity or "broader plans to protect Canadian democracy," but according to Thomas:

  • Between October 22, 2018 and March 20, 2023 Trudeau received six briefings from either his NSIA or CSIS;
  • Between 2018 and now, cabinet or a cabinet committee was briefed by senior public servants eight times;
  • Between August 15, 2018 and February 24, 2023 specific individual ministers—including most recently Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and International Trade Minister Mary Ng— received 15 briefings from either CSIS or the chief of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE);
  • The prime minister's office received two briefings from the NSIA and CSIS, one in September 2022 and one in February 2023 specifically on foreign interference in elections; and
  • Cleared political party representatives received four briefings between June and September 2019 and another nine briefings between July and October 2021.

Thomas said she and her predecessors in the NSIA role "routinely" brief the prime minister on matters of national security, and many of these briefings are "conversations which are not formally scheduled." The same is the case for members of the PMO, who can be briefed on an ad-hoc basis and during routine meetings.

"The prime minister has received many of such briefings since 2015," Thomas wrote in her response to committee. "The prime minister and his team also receive written intelligence briefings on national security issues in Canada, including the baseline threat of foreign interference at all levels of government."

Last week, opposition MPs had written to the Clerk of the Privy Council to express frustration that a month after vowing this information would be provided quickly, it had yet to be sent to the committee.

Thomas told the committee in writing that this list "may not be exhaustive as records are not complete in all cases," and does not include briefings from departments on foreign interference.

But, she said that the Privy Council Office and CSIS "have been diligent in auctioning the committee's request and have undertaken an exhaustive search of records… respecting limitations in sharing classified details.”

MPs requested that this information be provided prior to Telford's testimony.


Over the last few months, Trudeau has rolled out a suite of measures and reviews into foreign meddling in response to calls for the federal Liberals to take seriously the numerous headlines and accusations surrounding the issue of interference.

The committee has been studying the issue of foreign election interference since November.

Telford's appearance comes after weeks of resistance from the governing Liberals, and ahead of an opposition-backed vote that could have compelled it to happen.

Liberal MP Jennifer O'Connell said the way opposition MPs comported themselves during Friday's hearing was "exactly" why there was hesitation to call Trudeau's top adviser, accusing the Conservatives specifically of using their time to "summarize a series of conspiracy theories, frankly, that testimony here today does not corroborate." 

After hearing from numerous top federal intelligence officials, and driving a push for a public inquiry, the committee agreed when it moved to call Telford to also invite the national Liberal and Conservative campaign directors from the 2019 and 2021 elections to appear.

The committee also has sought testimony from former top Conservative PMO official Jenni Byrne and former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s chief of staff Tauscha Michaud.

On Friday, PROC chair and Liberal MP Bardish Chagger said that a hearing with campaign managers is expected to happen sometime in April.

"Invitations have been sent out to the four names that we were provided. One has confirmed and we're just pending responses from the other three, and we hope to have those soon," Chagger said.

Following Friday's meeting, Conservative MP Michael Barrett vowed that his party will continue its push for "answers from this government."

"What we saw from the prime minister's chief of staff today was not transparency, and it was not openness, and it was not sunlight as they promised in the past," he said. 

Federal officials have restated numerous times that despite foreign efforts, the integrity of both elections was upheld, pointing to various public service and expert oversight mechanisms set up since 2015 to help monitor, detect, and counter attempts to interfere in Canadian affairs. 

With files from CTV News Chief Political Correspondent Vassy Kapelos


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