NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says a public inquiry into allegations of Chinese interference in Canada’s federal elections could include an in-camera component to address concerns about exposing top-secret information.
Singh and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre have been pushing the idea of an open inquiry on foreign election interference.
Some critics argue, however, that national security would prevent a public inquiry from having open access to all government information.
Taking questions on Monday, Singh said an in-camera portion is standard for inquiries.
“So there are certain things that may be so important that we don’t want it in the public discourse because it could undermine the work of our agencies. That’s understandable,” he said.
“That is a normal course of action, given we’re a G7 nation … We don’t want countries to know the details of how our spy agency is operating or the resources that we have.”
Singh said an independent person should decide when to take the discussion behind closed doors.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not said for certain whether he supports a public inquiry. Trudeau is holding a media availability at 5: 15 p.m. ET on foreign election interference.
Fred Delorey, who ran the Conservatives’ 2021 federal campaign, told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics last week that an inquiry into alleged foreign election meddling would be “very challenging.”
“A public inquiry would be great political theatre. It would be a lot of fun, it would be great television,” Delorey said. “But I don’t know what we’d actually get.”
Delorey and others have suggested the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), a special committee that includes both MPs and senators with top security clearance, would be the best venue for an investigation.
Singh said he’d still like to see a public inquiry.
“We want the public to know that we’re taking steps to assess exactly what happened, how broad this is, and then take steps to recommend how we can prevent this from happening in the future,” said Singh.
“That should be the goal.”
Poilievre says he’s not open to a secret briefing
During a separate news conference Monday, Poilievre was asked if he would be open to receiving a high-level briefing from intelligence services, instead of a public inquiry.
“No, that’s a trick and that’s a trap,” he said.
“We’re not going to have a situation where Conservatives are told that they have to be quiet about this scandal because they’re sworn to secrecy. We need a public inquiry that is truly independent, to get to the bottom of it.”
Poilievre has said a public inquiry should be chaired by someone who is acceptable to all political parties to ensure its independence.
The push for a public inquiry comes in response to recent reports detailing allegations of Chinese interference in Canada’s elections.
Back in the fall, Global News reported intelligence officials warned Trudeau that China’s consulate in Toronto floated cash to at least eleven federal election candidates “and numerous Beijing operatives” who worked as campaign staffers.
Last month, the Globe and Mail reported that China employed a “sophisticated strategy to disrupt Canada’s democracy” in the 2021 election campaign as Chinese diplomats and their proxies “backed the re-election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.”
RCMP investigating leaks to media
A panel of public servants tasked with monitoring incidents did not detect foreign interference that threatened Canada’s ability to hold free and fair elections in either the 2019 and 2021 elections. But the panel did say there were attempts to interfere in both campaigns, according to reports highlighting its work.
On Monday, the RCMP confirmed it’s started an investigation into violations of the Security of Information Act related to leaks of government information about foreign election interference shared with media outlets.
The act is designed to safeguard and protect Canada’s most secret information.
“This investigation is not focused on any one security agency,” said RCMP spokesperson Robin Percival.
“As the RCMP is investigating these incidents, there will be no further comment on this matter at this time.”
The RCMP says it wasn’t able to launch a criminal investigation into allegations of foreign interference in the 2021 election because it did not receive actionable intelligence.