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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau yielded to pressure over allegations China interfered in Canada’s elections, appointing a special investigator to study the matter.
“Upholding confidence in our democratic process in our elections, in our institutions, is of utmost importance,” the prime minister told reporters Monday evening in Ottawa.
“I will be appointing an independent special rapporteur, who will have a wide mandate and make expert recommendations on combating interference and strengthening our democracy,” he added.
The issue will also be studied by a group of lawmakers cleared to see top-secret intelligence, Trudeau said.
A series of media reports in recent weeks said Trudeau received intelligence briefings alleging that China meddled in both the 2019 and 2021 votes that returned the prime minister to power. The reports included claims that Beijing spread misinformation to hurt certain candidates, and funneled money and volunteers toward people it wanted to see elected.
The most serious allegation came in a Feb. 17 Globe and Mail report, citing intelligence that China preferred to see Trudeau’s Liberals re-elected over the alternative of a Conservative government.
Last week, a non-partisan group of government officials published a report that found there were attempts at foreign interference in the 2021 vote, “but not enough to have met the threshold of impacting electoral integrity.”
Recent polling has found that two thirds of Canadians believe China tried to interfere, and more than half see it as a serious threat to Canada’s democracy and want Trudeau to do more in response.
Opposition politicians and independent experts have urged the prime minister to call a judicial inquiry, but he instead opted to name a special investigator and refer the matter to the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. The investigator may recommend a full judicial review, Trudeau said, and “we will abide by their recommendation.”
The cross-partisan group of lawmakers is cleared to review classified intelligence, but is also sworn to secrecy about it. The committee’s reports are published in parliament with significant redactions to any secret intelligence.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, Trudeau’s chief rival, said earlier Monday that any situation in which opposition politicians are bound by secrecy is unacceptable to him.
“We’re not going to have a situation where Conservatives are told that they have to be quiet about this scandal because they’re sworn to secrecy,” Poilievre said. “What we need is a public inquiry that is truly independent to get to the bottom of it.”
While Trudeau and Chinese President Xi Jinping have clashed in public, the Liberals are seen as more open to doing business with the Asian superpower than the Conservatives, who take a hard line on human rights issues and national security concerns.
China maintains it doesn’t interfere with Canada’s internal affairs and has warned that the northern nation should stop “smearing” Beijing’s government with what it calls unfounded allegations.
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