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Resumption of the federal investigation into foreign interference, between secrecy and transparency

Photo: Adrian Wyld The Canadian Press Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue reiterated the need to keep certain information confidential and to hear certain testimonies behind closed doors.

Sandrine Vieira

March 27, 2024

  • Canada

After a series of preliminary hearings in January, the commission of inquiry into foreign interference resumed its work on Wednesday. The commissioner, Marie-Josée Hogue, who had already taken care to lower expectations about what could be disclosed to the general public, reiterated the need to keep certain information confidential and to hear certain testimonies behind closed doors.

The judge of the Quebec Court of Appeal will hear, over the next two weeks, the testimony of more than 40 people to examine the allegations according to which countries such as China, Russia and India, among others, allegedly attempted to influence the outcome of the country's last two general elections.

Members of affected communities, representatives of political parties and federal election officials will be called to testify about this interference. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, members of his cabinet and various senior government officials will also appear at the hearings.

If openness and transparency are virtues, so is secrecy in certain circumstances

— Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue

“I am aware that some people will feel that too much information is being kept secret, while others will feel that too much information is being disclosed,” the commissioner admitted in her opening speech on Wednesday. speaking of a balance that is “difficult, if not impossible,” to achieve.

Last year, reports from the Global network and the daily The Globe and Mail revealed that Beijing diplomats and proxies in Canada allegedly attempted to influence the results of the last federal election. Sources also suggested that the government had shown inaction despite advice from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

During preliminary hearings in January, several senior officials argued that the disclosure of certain information should be restricted. Approximately 80% of the documents received so far by Commissioner Hogue’s team are classified. Of these, 80% have the highest protection ratings, meaning they are considered “top secret” or higher.

On Wednesday, Commissioner Hogue explained that any information disclosed as part of her investigation would become known not only to Canadians, but also to states and organizations with interests opposed to those of Canada.

“Their disclosure to hostile actors could cause serious harm to both citizens and Canada as a whole. This could diminish our ability to detect and respond to foreign interference,” the commissioner said.

Even so, Ms. Hogue says national security confidentiality “in no way hindered [her] ability to seek the truth.”

“The commission had access to a large number of classified documents in their entirety, that is to say without the redactions necessary to protect national security,” she assured. Confidentiality requirements have not prevented us from carrying out the work assigned to us so far, but they pose real challenges as I strive to keep the process transparent and open. »

“Flexible” rules

In the context of critical information, the commission opted for “flexible rules of evidence and procedure”, which notably allows witnesses to appear behind closed doors. The commissioner revealed on Wednesday that six days of closed-door hearings have already taken place.

“Evidence will not always be administered according to the rules generally applicable in court. I believe that the usual rules, although essential in other forums, would be too rigid in the context of this commission,” explained the judge.

Summaries of information presented privately must, however, be made public.

Some witnesses working within the intelligence service will not be named, but those who occupy the highest positions within intelligence agencies will be, assured the commissioner.

Members of diaspora communities are scheduled to testify Wednesday afternoon.

Marie-Josée Hogue must submit her first report before May 3. Its final report is expected by December 31, 2024.

Work schedule

  • March 27-April 10: Public Hearings on Foreign Interference (Step 1)
  • May 3: Tabling of Commissioner Hogue's preliminary report
  • Fall: Second phase of public hearings, on the ability to detect interference activities
  • December 31: Submission of the final report
Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116