Ottawa says special rapporteur on election interference will be named within weeks
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre continues to question the independence of the new role
As the Trudeau government promises to appoint a special rapporteur within weeks to investigate claims that China meddled in Canada's last two elections, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is casting doubt on the independence of the new role.
On Monday night, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he will name an "eminent" and independent person as a special rapporteur on election interference. He said the special rapporteur "will have a wide mandate and make expert recommendations on combating interference and strengthening our democracy."
The next day, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the government wants to appoint the special rapporteur in a very short period of time.
"We're talking about weeks, not months," he said.
Trudeau said he's open to consulting with the opposition parties on choosing someone for the role. Poilievre said he was skeptical.
"He could pick someone independent but he won't," Poilievre told reporters Tuesday morning.
"He'll pick another Liberal establishment insider, a real Ottawa insider with some grey hair who looks like a reasonable fellow, but we all know that it will be someone tied to him, tied to the Liberals."
The Conservatives have largely dismissed a recent report highlighting foreign interference observations during the 2021 election. The report was written by Morris Rosenberg, who was appointed to the role by the public service.
The veteran former public servant also worked as the head of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. Poilievre's party has said that fact makes him not credible.
"[Trudeau is] going to appoint a special rapporteur that will be appointed by him who will come out and say, 'Oh, everything is fine, let's move on,'" said Poilievre.
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"He wants closed and controlled and we want an open and independent inquiry to make sure it never happens again."
'Special rapporteur' is term often used in the context of the United Nations. Special rapporteurs are are often appointed to conduct fact-finding missions or investigate allegations of human rights violations.
NDP calls for someone 'impeccable'
During a separate news conference, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said the special rapporteur should be appointed by Parliament, not the prime minister.
NDP House Leader Peter Julian told CBC's Power & Politics that Monday's announcement was a baby step and the special rapporteur needs to be "impeccable."
"It cannot be somebody who is considered partisan and cannot be somebody who is not considered independent from the Liberal government," he said.
Trudeau said Tuesday he will consider names floated by his political opponents.
"We will of course be open to suggestions that the various parties put forward for names for this independent special rapporteur," he said during a news conference in Kingston, Ont.
"We will make sure whoever is chosen is someone who both has the capacity to ensure we're doing all the right things to fight interference and has the capacity to give all Canadians confidence in the openness, transparency and rigour of that process."
Poilievre said his party will continue to push for a public inquiry into recent media reports that claimed China took steps to ensure a minority Liberal government was returned in 2021 and that certain Conservative candidates were defeated.
Other reporting alleged intelligence officials warned Trudeau that China's campaign of interference included funding a "clandestine network of at least 11 federal candidates running in the 2019 election."
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A panel of public servants tasked with monitoring election incidents reported that it did not detect foreign interference that threatened Canada's ability to hold free and fair elections in either 2019 or 2021. But the panel did say there were attempts to interfere in both campaigns, according to reports highlighting its work.
"What we actually need is an independent and open public investigation to get to the bottom of interference by Beijing or any other foreign dictatorship in our democracy," Poilievre said.
Some politicians and national security experts have cautioned that a public inquiry might not get to the crux of the issue because national security information is protected from being made public.
On Tuesday, Poilievre suggested a public inquiry with a judge empowered to issue a publication ban. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the inquiry could also go in-camera if needed.
"The bias should be in favour of more information, not less," Poilievre added.
Trudeau said the rapporteur could recommend a formal inquiry and he will abide by their recommendations.
On Monday night, Trudeau announced he would also ask a special committee of MPs and senators and an independent review agency to investigate foreign interference in elections and report on how Canada's intelligence agencies should work together.
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