Government won’t commit to releasing names of MPs who allegedly conspired with foreign actors | CBC News

Senior cabinet ministers wouldn’t say Tuesday if the government is prepared to release the names of parliamentarians who are alleged to have conspired with foreign governments and to have consciously shared sensitive information with their agents — conduct that one expert says could amount to treason.

There may still be police investigations into these allegations, the ministers said, and details could eventually be released as part of that process.

But that raises the question of whether the voting public will know who’s alleged to have engaged in such conduct before the next federal election, which is expected sometime in 2025.

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP), a cross-party group of MPs and senators with top security clearances, released a report Monday that paints a troubling picture of what some unnamed parliamentarians are said to have done to undermine Canadian democracy and benefit the interests of a foreign state.

The report was compiled after committee members reviewed information and intelligence gathered by ten federal bodies, including the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Department of Justice and Elections Canada. It claims some unnamed parliamentarians — MPs and/or senators — failed in their duty to conduct themselves in the best interests of the country.

David McGuinty, chair of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parlmentarians, holds a news conference to release the committee's annual report in Ottawa on Thursday, March 12, 2020. The committee of parliamentarians that oversees national security says it has begun a study of foreign interference, following a request from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
David McGuinty, chair of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parlmentarians, holds a news conference to release the committee’s annual report in Ottawa on Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

The committee said an unknown number of parliamentarians inappropriately communicated with foreign missions ahead of a political campaign and accepted money from foreign governments or their proxies.

Unnamed parliamentarians also provided foreign diplomatic officials with “privileged information on the work or opinions of fellow parliamentarians,” knowing that the information could be used to manipulate some other MPs and senators, the report said.

Certain parliamentarians also responded to requests from foreign actors to “improperly influence parliamentary colleagues” to benefit another country, and disclosed confidential government information to “a known intelligence officer or foreign state,” the committee said in its report, which was heavily redacted.

The names of the alleged parliamentary conspirators are blanked out in the report. They’ve been replaced with the words, “This paragraph was revised to remove injurious or privileged information.”

Under the law that governs NSICOP, the prime minister can direct the committee to submit a “revised version” of any of its reports that leaves out information that could be seen as “injurious” to national security, defence and international relations, or that is protected by solicitor-client privilege.

The committee wrote in its report that, after submitting the initial draft version of this study to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March, some information “which the prime minister believed would be injurious” was stripped out of the report released to the public.

It’s not clear what information was left out at the prime minister’s request.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters Tuesday the government takes the threat of foreign political interference “very seriously” and said the country can’t be “naive” about authoritarian governments seeking to undermine our democracy.

When asked if she could guarantee that the Liberals will eject from their caucus any parliamentarian found to have engaged in the activities cited in the report, Freeland would not make that commitment.

WATCH: Freeland asked about public’s right to names in foreign interference report 


Freeland asked about public’s right to names in foreign interference report

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was asked Tuesday if Canadians have a right to know the names of Parliamentarians referenced in a new report on foreign interference from the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.

“The guarantee I can give to Canadians is our government takes foreign interference very, very seriously,” she said. She pointed to new government legislation, Bill C-70, that would create a foreign agent registry to compel people working on behalf of foreign governments to report their dealings.

Pressed to say if she thinks Canadians should know who is supposedly working to undermine the country before the next election, Freeland said she trusts police to do their work.

As for the Liberal Party, Freeland said in French the allegations of foreign interference are “a matter of national interest of national security and as a political party we will do an internal followup.”

It wasn’t immediately clear what form this “internal followup” will take.

WATCH: Public safety minister defends government’s response to foreign interference 


Public safety minister defends government’s response to foreign interference

Dominic LeBlanc, minister of public safety, responds to a question about how a report from the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) said the government needed to take foreign interference more seriously.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc sidestepped a question about the report’s conclusion that certain unnamed parliamentarians inappropriately worked with foreign actors.

“I think as a matter of principle, it’s unwise to speak about specific elements that may involve individuals,” LeBlanc said.

He also said the “government respectfully disagrees” with some of NSICOP’s findings, without offering any specific concerns about what the committee found.

The federal Liberal government created NSICOP. The federal cabinet, based on the prime minister’s recommendations, names its members, who are given security clearances to review the country’s most sensitive information.

Rather than call a public inquiry into the matter of foreign interference, the government tasked NSICOP and a former judge with investigating claims of meddling.

“The government’s concerns centre around the interpretation of intelligence reports which lack the necessary caveats inherent to intelligence,” LeBlanc said of NSICOP.

‘Textbook treason’

Wesley Wark, one of Canada’s foremost experts on national security, said Tuesday the NSCIOP report reveals “underbelly stories” that are “nausea-inducing.”

He cited one account in the report that said an unnamed MP consorted with a foreign intelligence officer, sought to arrange an overseas meeting and “provided the intelligence officer with information provided in confidence.” Wark called that scenario “textbook treason.”

Housing Minister Sean Fraser said he’s willing to wait to learn the names of the alleged foreign conspirators.

“The obvious potential reputational damage a person might suffer if there’s another side of the story, that must be considered. Those are all factors that will give me some cause to take it seriously and be patient to make sure we get this right,” Fraser said.

He said Canadians can learn about who’s alleged to have engaged in these activities if there’s a police investigation that produces criminal charges.

Justice Minister Arif Virani said the government is concerned about the issue of foreign meddling and is taking action.

He said NSICOP’s findings should be troubling “for all of us, regardless of caucus or party.”

Indeed, the committee also found that foreign actors from India and the People’s Republic of China allegedly interfered in more than one race for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada — claims the party said Monday it wasn’t aware of before the NSCIOP report was released.

Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said it should be up to NSICOP to make recommendations on “the next steps” to deal with parliamentarians allegedly helping foreign states.

“People need to have confidence that everyone here is acting in the best interest of the nation,” Champagne said.

The NSICOP report described the conduct of some parliamentarians as potentially “illegal” but said it’s “unlikely to lead to criminal charges, owing to Canada’s failure to address the long-standing issue of protecting classified information and methods of judicial processes.”

“Regardless, all the behaviours are deeply unethical and, the Committee would submit, contrary to the oaths and affirmations Parliamentarians take to conduct themselves in the best interest of Canada,” the report said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said it’s “very serious” and “very, very, very disappointing” to learn that some MPs allegedly worked on behalf of a foreign government.

“If there’s any evidence that somebody knowingly worked with a foreign government to influence our democracy, they should no longer be a member of Parliament,” Singh said.

WATCH: Politicians working with foreign governments should be kicked out of Parliament, Singh says 


Politicians maliciously working with foreign governments should be kicked out of Parliament, Singh says

Responding Tuesday to a question about intelligence watchdog reports that some MPs are helping foreign actors like China and India meddle in Canadian politics, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the allegations ‘very serious,’ suggesting those found guilty should be kicked out of Parliament.

He said the intelligence gathered for this NSICOP report should be probed by police.

“If this intelligence is true, this is deeply concerning, very serious, and we have to see next steps taken,” he said. “A follow-up on this is very vital.”

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