Trudeau says he has 'concerns' about some findings of foreign interference report

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he has concerns about some of the findings of a foreign interference report from one of Canada's intelligence oversight bodies.

But he did not specify the exact nature of his concerns.

"There are a number of the conclusions of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians report that we don't entirely align with," Trudeau told reporters Sunday at the end of the Ukraine Peace Summit in Switzerland, without addressing which conclusions raised concerns.

On June 3, the cross-party committee of MPs and senators with top security clearances, known as NSICOP, released a heavily redacted document alleging, based on intelligence, that some parliamentarians have been "semi-witting or witting" participants in the efforts of foreign states to interfere in Canadian politics.

Trudeau on Sunday referred to previous comments made by Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc, who has raised concerns about NSICOP's interpretation of intelligence reports.

The day the report was released, LeBlanc suggested it left out important context and did not acknowledge "the full breadth of outreach that has been done with respect to informing parliamentarians about the threat posed by foreign interference."

New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks in the Foyer of the House of Commons about the NSICOP report, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Thursday, June 13, 2024.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says the government should be doing more to fight back against foreign interference in Canada. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

The prime minister's comments come days after Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh each read the committee's unredacted report and offered different interpretations.

Trudeau said the fact that the leaders came to different conclusions about the same report "demonstrated" his government's concerns.

In a news conference Tuesday, May said she was "relieved" after reading the report, adding that she doesn't believe any current MPs knowingly betrayed their country.

Two days later, Singh said he was "more alarmed" after having read the same report. He said he was "convinced" that some MPs have been "willing participants" in foreign states' efforts to interfere in Canadian politics, but would not confirm whether that included sitting MPs.

In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live that aired Sunday, Singh confirmed that he has been a target of foreign interference, both now and in the past, and that many "everyday Canadians" have as well. But as a political leader, Singh has access to certain security protections, and most members of the public do not.

"I speak with a lot of Canadians who live with the fear of foreign interference," he said. "They live with constant threat, harassment ... and they're not feeling safe in Canada."

Singh also criticized Trudeau's government for not doing enough to curb interference.

"He's effectively implicitly saying, 'A certain amount of foreign interference, I can live with,'" Singh said.

Trudeau said Sunday his government has made several moves to stop other countries from meddling in Canadian affairs.

"Over the past number of years, Canada has brought in a significant number of measures and institutions and programs to counter foreign interference," he said, including creating NSICOP, strengthening the national security oversight agency, tasking top public servants with elections monitoring, and putting a stronger intelligence focus on democracy and elections.

'Varied' conclusions

The prime minister also emphasized the differing findings in two other recent investigations into foreign interference in Canadian politics.

"Many of those conclusions and reports are varied in the conclusions they draw, in the level of assumptions and conclusions they make," he said.

In May 2023, following allegations of interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, special rapporteur David Johnston concluded that foreign governments were attempting to influence Canadian politics but it did not warrant a public inquiry.

Regardless, the government launched an inquiry on foreign interference that September. In an interim report released last month, inquiry Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue found that foreign meddling did not ultimately affect which political party formed government, but may have affected the results in a small number of ridings.

Trudeau said that when taken together, those investigations and the NSICOP report have provided Canadians with valuable information.

"All of those elements together are contributing to a fuller picture that Canadians have — all of us have — on the reality of foreign interference by many different countries into our democracy," he said.

Trudeau also stressed that differences in Singh and May's interpretations of the report demonstrate that "there is a certain amount of responsibility that party leaders have to engage with this," and criticized Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre for not taking steps to do so.

"The decision by the Conservative leader and the leader of the Official Opposition to not get a security clearance, to not choose to even read the unredacted report before engaging in political attacks and oversimplifications, is not responsible leadership."

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said last week he has sought security clearance to view the report, which makes Poilievre the only federal party leader who has not sought clearance.

Though he has not read the unredacted report, Poilievre has repeatedly called on the Liberal government to release the names of MPs accused of knowingly colluding with foreign governments.

"Canadians have a right to know who and what is the information," Poilievre said in question period last Wednesday.

In an interview with CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton that aired Sunday, LeBlanc shot down the request.

"We're not able, by law, to announce a series of names," he said. "It's completely irresponsible and it's illegal."