Please support democracy

Without your support, Democracy Watch can't win key changes to stop governments and big businesses from abusing their power and hurting you and your family. Please click here to support democracy now

DWatch calls on House Committee to question Trudeau Cabinet on withholding documents from foreign interference inquiry

Hogue Inquiry has downplayed and almost buried this excessive Cabinet secrecy – should be pushing publicly for full disclosure of all docs

Loopholes in election, political finance, lobbying and ethics rules and weak enforcement make secret, unethical interference and misinformation legal

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on MPs on the House of Commons Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) Committee to vote at its meeting this afternoon from 3:30 to 5:30 pm to call Trudeau Cabinet ministers and officials to testify and be questioned on why the Cabinet is redacting about 3,000 documents and withholding an unknown number of other documents from the Hogue Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Canadian politics.

Last Thursday, the Globe and Mail published an article based Democracy Watch’s submission filed on February 8th with the Hogue Inquiry (released by DWatch on April 11th) requesting that the Inquiry demand written, public answers from the Trudeau Cabinet about why it is redacting and withholding Cabinet documents from the Inquiry, and also withheld them from Special Rapporteur David Johnston, and to ensure the Cabinet discloses the documents to the Inquiry.  Democracy Watch is an intervener in the Inquiry and is represented at the Inquiry by Wade Poziomka and Nick Papageorge of Ross & McBride LLP.

In the Globe article, a spokesperson from the Cabinet office (Privy Council Office (PCO)) disclosed that “As of May 17, 2024, approximately 9% of the 33,000 documents provided by the government contain one or more redactions. Other documents covered entirely by these exemptions have not been provided to the commission.”  In other words, about 3,000 documents the Trudeau Cabinet submitted to the Inquiry contained redactions, and the Cabinet is hiding exactly how many other documents have been fully withheld from the Inquiry.

In response to the Globe article, the four Conservative MPs and the Bloc Quebecois MP on the PROC Committee forced the meeting this afternoon by writing a letter last Friday to the Committee Chair, as the Globe reported in an article on Saturday.  The NDP MP or a Liberal MP on the Committee will have to vote with the Conservative and Bloc MPs this afternoon in favour of calling Cabinet ministers and officials to testify in order for hearings to happen.

Democracy Watch’s February 8th submission is also posted on the Inquiry’s website.  Inquiry Commissioner Hogue and staff did not respond to the requests set out in the submission, and have downplayed and almost buried the fact that the Cabinet is withholding documents.

For example, in the Commissioner’s Initial Report released on May 3rd, it says at the top of p. 5 “I have had access to the relevant documents without any redactions for reasons of national security” and in the third last paragraph on p. 17 it says “the Commission was given access to the unredacted versions of all relevant documents” (claims that were repeated in the third paragraph of the news release about the Report) and in the first paragraph on p. 77 it says “The Commission’s Rules of Practice and Procedure take into account that the Commission will receive unredacted documents from the government…”

However, buried in footnote 1 on p. 5 it says “Some documents contained redactions for Cabinet confidence, solicitor-client privilege or protection of personal information. Discussions as to the application of these privileges is ongoing” and buried in footnote 2 on p. 17 it says: “Save for a small number of documents that have been redacted to protect Cabinet confidences, solicitor-client privilege and personal information.”

“Canada’s spy agencies have disclosed to the inquiry all their foreign-interference related documents without redactions, and the Trudeau Cabinet disclosed Cabinet confidence documents to last year’s inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act, so the Cabinet clearly can disclose all its records to the inquiry,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

“It has been disappointing to see the inquiry downplaying and almost burying this excessive secrecy by the Trudeau Cabinet.  The inquiry should be publicly demanding disclosure of all the Cabinet documents because the secrecy makes it impossible for the inquiry commissioner to determine who knew what, when they knew it, and what they did,” said Conacher.

“If the Trudeau Cabinet continues to hide records from the inquiry into foreign interference, Canadians are justified in assuming that disclosure of the records would make the Cabinet look bad, and that is why the records are being kept secret,” said Conacher.

On March 23, 2024, Democracy Watch also submitted to the Hogue Inquiry a list of 10 key witnesses and about 140 key questions to ask them.  The questions are aimed mainly at revealing the many loopholes in Canadian federal election, donation and spending, lobbying and ethics laws, and the lack of independent, effective enforcement of those laws.

DWatch also highlighted the Trudeau Cabinet’s secrecy and some of the key loopholes in its April 15th submission to the Hogue Inquiry at the end of the first set of fact-finding hearings that took place in March-April. Click here to see the submission on the Inquiry’s website.

The loopholes in the laws make secret, unethical foreign interference and misinformation activities legal, so no watchdog is even monitoring the activities, which makes it impossible to determine the extent of interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections, or after those elections up to now, or to stop the interference.

Almost all the watchdogs who are supposed to enforce the few rules that exist are chosen in secret by the ruling party Cabinet, many of them serve at the pleasure of the Cabinet, most don’t do inspections or audits, most are not required to issue public rulings on every allegation they investigate, and in many cases there are no penalties for violating the laws.  As a result, their enforcement is weak and ineffective and does little to discourage violations.

“A foreign-agent registry as proposed in Bill C-70 will not be enough to stop foreign interference in Canadian politics, especially if it is full of loopholes,” said Conacher. “Last year the lobbying commissioner gutted ethical lobbying rules, and MPs added a loophole to their ethics code so foreign-sponsored lobby groups can sponsor intern spies in their offices.  Those changes, combined with the existing loopholes in Canada’s election, political donation and spending, lobbying and ethics laws, make it even easier than it was in the past for foreign governments, businesses and organizations to influence Canadian politics and politicians in secret, including by making false claims on social media sites.”

“All our key democracy laws, including laws that claim to be aimed at stopping foreign interference, are enforced by weak lapdogs who are handpicked by the ruling party Cabinet, and they operate largely in secret and lack powers and accountability for doing their jobs properly,” said Conacher.

Click here to see the Backgrounder that summarizes all the loopholes and weak enforcement problems that make foreign interference legal and easy to do across Canada at every level of government.

Click here to see summary list of 17 key changes that need to be made to stop foreign interference.

– 30 –

Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Stop Foreign Interference in Canadian Politics Campaign and Open Government Campaign