David Johnston Has Filed His Final Report. Canadians Don’t Get To See It.

A fitting end to the ‘Special Rapporteur’ role, a position ostensibly created to increase trust in our institutions while accomplishing the exact opposite.

David Johnston has filed his final report as ‘Special Rapporteur.’

But we don’t get to read it.

The conclusion to his initial report – which recommended against a public inquiry into China’s interference in our democratic institutions – will not be made public. It will only be readable by the Privy Council’s office, NSICOP, and NSIRA.

The only thing we get to read is the cover page, which I’ve included below:

Text:

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing to advise you that I have supplemented the Confidential Annex to my first report. i have provided a copy of the supplement to the confidential annex to the Privy Council’s office, in English only, and asked for it to be translated by security-cleared translators. Once that is complete, I have requested that they provide it to your office, NSICOP and NSIRA.

This completes my work as Independent Special Rapporteur and my resignation is therefore effective as of today. To the extent that I or my legal team can be of assistance to the Government of Canada (or anybody charged with investigating this important issue) as it pursues its next steps on Foreign Interference, we will make ourselves available.

Respectfully, 

The Right Honourable David Johnston

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A fitting end

When initial reports regarding China’s interference in our democratic process first emerged, Justin Trudeau was dismissive.

He attempted to spin the issue as being nothing more than reporting based on prejudice:

Early on, in response to questions from reporters about China’s interference, Trudeau said “One of the things we’ve seen, unfortunately, over the past years is a rise in anti-Asian racism linked to the pandemic and concerns being raised or arisen around people’s loyalties.”

This was an attempt by Trudeau to link two separate issues – the real problem of anti-Asian racism, and the real problem of China’s interference in our democratic institutions. Those are not the same thing.

Ironically, Trudeau’s attempt to conflate questions about China’s interference with racism is a tactic used by the Chinese Communist Party itself.

Once it became obvious that tactic wasn’t working, the government had to look like they were “doing something,” but it also became clear they really didn’t want a public inquiry to take place.

Enter David Johnston.

It now seems clear that Johnston was brought in to try and give a veneer of credibility to the decision not to have a public inquiry, while distancing Trudeau from that decision.

It didn’t work.

Johnston’s connection to Justin Trudeau, and his own evident affinity for China caused his credibility to decline from the beginning. Many still gave him the benefit of the doubt, waiting until his recommendation on an inquiry.

But when he recommend against it, his credibility fell off a cliff.

Then, it was learned that he didn’t even meet with some of the individuals closely connected to stories on China’s interference, and his interview with former CPC Leader Erin O’Toole – who was targeted by China – wasn’t even included in the report as it had been sent off for translation before the meeting took place.

“Conservative MP Michael Cooper grills David Johnston on not having all the facts, not having all the evidence before stating concretely in his report that there was no evidence to tie disinformation to a state actor like China. Cooper asks how Johnson could say that.”

Johnston – once a widely-respected figure – polled quite poorly among Canadians following his first report:

“Just 27 per cent of survey respondents said they believe Johnston’s recent report recommending against a public inquiry into foreign interference was based on either “rigorous impartial work” or “foreign policy expertise.””

“Forty-six per cent of respondents said they were aware of Johnston’s report, released last week, but thirty-three per cent said they believe the report was not based on sufficient expertise or impartiality, while 40 per cent said they’re either not sure or do not know.”

Johnston’s loss of credibility extended to MPs, with a majority of elected representatives calling for him to resign.

His response only made things worse, as he claimed MPs were basing their resignation call on ‘misinformation’.

That kind of arrogance and disregard for MPs echoed the disregard the Liberal government has shown more broadly in their refusal to call a public inquiry.

The pressure ultimately became too great, and Johnston announced that he would resign, pending his final report.

With that report delivered, his resignation is official.

But the issue of foreign interference hasn’t gone away.

More questions, fewer answers

If the Liberal government was trying to buy time, appointing Johnston worked out perfectly for them.

They’ve bought themselves months in order to put off an inquiry, and with no inquiry called before the end of the most recent session of Parliament, the delay will grow further – even if an inquiry ends up happening at some point.

Amazingly, Canadians now have fewer answers and more questions than when the whole process started.

And the trust in our institutions that was supposed to be restored has only turned into more and more doubt.

This is having a dangerously corrosive impact on our democratic institutions, as many Canadians feel that the apparatus of government is being used to protect the party currently in power, rather than protecting the best interests of Canadians.

This is especially problematic at a time when foreign dictatorships like China and Russia are seeking to sow doubt within Western nations in an effort to keep us internally divided and distracted. We can ill afford to have a government that views transparency as nothing more than a slogan. And we can ill afford to have a government that is willing to countenance foreign interference just because they think they are benefitting from it.

This isn’t 2015 when the biggest issue seemed to be whether to legalize marijuana or how big a deficit to run for a few years. The West needs to get serious about protecting our interests and ensuring the values of freedom and democracy are defended and strengthened. And making that happen requires a certain level of trust between Citizens and the government, trust that requires much more openness, transparency, and honesty from those in power.

Spencer Fernando

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