Independent investigation the only path

What a week.

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What a week.

On Tuesday, the long-awaited report into foreign interference in the Canadian electoral process was released. But instead of offering a dynamic approach to addressing a clear danger to Canada’s democratic system, we were handed — and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepted — a chance at something akin to a foreign election interference discussion group.

And now, we’re left in the uncomfortable position of deciding who to believe.

Former governor-general David Johnston, tapped by Trudeau to review whether a full public inquiry was necessary into the electoral interference, wants us to believe him that no inquiry is possible.

Just to believe him.

He has, literally and figuratively, staked his reputation on the fairness and veracity of his decision that, for a variety of reasons, a public inquiry would not be the appropriate route to take. He plans a less-formal investigation of foreign electoral interference that he’d handle himself.

Tragically, we’re far beyond the point.

Prime Minister Trudeau wants us all to believe the best-case scenario: that Johnson is being accurate and honest when he says a public inquiry won’t provide the kind of evidence Canadians want to see, because the release of that top secret information would threaten perhaps even the lives of those who provided secret information to Canadian authorities.

Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre, meanwhile, wants us all to believe the worst-case scenario: that Johnston, because of connections to the Trudeau family, is deliberately and deceptively protecting the prime minister. Poilievre wants us to believe that postion, even though he has not seen all of the secret evidence involved and has not taken up a proposal to be briefed on the information — because he would have to abide by requirements to keep details secret.

The truth, as always, is lost somewhere in the middle.

Trudeau’s unctuous earnestness is not going to bring us to that middle ground: Poilievre, with his take-no-prisoners approach to politics, most certainly is not either. (If Poilievre’s desire to learn the facts is trumped by his need to have a free hand politically, that question is already answered. Abundantly.)

The problem goes even farther than that: if the last few years of federal politics have taught Canadians anything, it’s that there is no party that can honestly boast of having clean hands.

The Liberals get caught sliding sideways with villainous half-truths: the Conservatives get caught baiting the credulous with whatever rage-bait seems tastiest.

The other parties in the Canadian federal firmament? They are but a loose chorus of equally self-interested high and low notes.

Whether it’s foreign influence of another kind or not, the plain truth is that we’re now in the political space where lying for advantage is not only accepted, but expected.

So where do we go from here?


David Johnston, Independent Special Rapporteur on Foreign Interference, presents his first report in Ottawa on May 23, 2023.

On May 5, well before the Johnston report was tabled, the Free Press pointed out in an editorial that, when it comes to foreign interference in Canadian elections, “It is abundantly clear that Canadians are not going to get straight, honest answers from any side in Parliament. Too much is wrapped up in political gamesmanship and self-serving party politics… An investigation of what has happened, and who knew about it, should be done independently, with witnesses under oath, separate from the political football field.”

Nothing has changed in the interim — however frustrating an inquiry forced to stickhandle around necessarily secret material might be, it’s far, far ahead of having to absorb near-daily doses of duelling performative righteousness and cheap-shot innuendo.

Bring on an inquiry, headed up by a smart, independent, impartial judge able to address the ramifications of handling intelligence material, the release of which could put lives at risk.

Really, nothing else will do.

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