Intelligence watchdog completes report on Chinese interference allegations, sends it to PM

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has received the NSICOP report on foreign election interference claims. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press - image credit)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has received the NSICOP report on foreign election interference claims. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press - image credit)

One of Canada's intelligence watchdogs has finished its investigation into allegations of foreign electoral interference and has sent its findings to the prime minister and members of his cabinet.

It will still be a while before the public can read it, however — and it remains to be seen how much of the report will be redacted.

Just over a year ago, when the Liberal government was under constant fire over claims that China meddled in the 2019 and 2021 elections, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked the country's two intelligence review bodies — the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) and the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) — to investigate the issue.

On Friday, NSICOP announced it had delivered its special report, with unanimous findings and recommendations, to Trudeau, Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Justice Minster Arif Virani and Defence Minister Bill Blair.

As required by NSICOP's enabling law, it's now up to the prime minister to consider "whether there is any information in the report, the disclosure of which would be injurious to national security, national defence or international relations, or constitutes solicitor-client information."

The prime minister must table a declassified version of the report within 30 sitting days of Parliament.

NSICOP is made up of MPs and senators from different parties who receive top secret security clearances and are permanently bound to secrecy under the Security of Information Act, permitting them access to the agencies' usually secret activities.

It was set up in 2017 with a mandate to review national security measures but has found itself in the political crosshairs over the past 12 months.

Last March, Conservative critic for foreign affairs Michael Chong described NSICOP as "a secret committee with secret hearings, secret evidence and secret conclusions, all controlled by the prime minister."

Vern White, a former Conservative senator and NSICOP member, called that claim "B.S."

"There are strict rules on the things that need to be redacted. Read the legislation. It's very clear," he told The House last year.

A 2019 NSICOP report urged Ottawa to take the threat of foreign interference more seriously.

"Canada has been slow to react to the threat of foreign interference," it said. "The government must do better."

Inquiry resumes next week 

The NSICOP report is separate from the commission probing similar allegations, which is set to resume next week.

The Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions (PIFI) resumes next Wednesday and will run until April 10.

That inquiry is delving into allegations of foreign interference by China, India, Russia or others in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

In a news release issued Friday, the commission said it will hear from dozens of individuals and agencies — including members of diaspora communities, current and former elected officials, political party representatives, Elections Canada officials, the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, current and former senior government officials, cabinet ministers and Trudeau himself.

Last year, the prime minister — who has come under attack over the way he has handled the file — said he would testify "willingly and with very much enthusiasm."

A schedule listing when witnesses will appear is expected next week.

Hogue held interim hearings earlier this year on whether intelligence and other information could be talked about publicly.

The upcoming set of hearings will focus on whether there was foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, the potential impacts on the integrity of those elections, the flow of information to senior decision-makers and the government's response.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

"A goal for these hearings is to give citizens a better understanding of the foreign interference threats our electoral system may have faced in the 2019 and 2021 elections, the protective mechanisms that were in place, and the potential impact, if any, on the integrity of the elections," Hogue said in a media statement Friday.

She said the commission will have to be "both creative and prudent in its approach."

"We have therefore provided for flexible rules of evidence and procedure that should enable us to reconcile the objectives of transparency and the protection of national security, while respecting the rights of the parties and the public to know and meeting the tight timelines that have been imposed," said Hogue.

Hogue's interim report is due May 3 and her final report is due by the end of the year.