Published June 4, 2024

Freeland says committee finding that some MPs aided foreign interference 'concerning'

By Mia Rabson
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland is seen during a news conference, Tuesday, June 4, 2024 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The findings of a parliamentary committee that some Canadian MPs "wittingly" aided foreign state actors are "concerning," but it is up to law enforcement to decide if they broke the law, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Tuesday.

Freeland was speaking the day after the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians released a report following its study into whether foreign state actors interfered in the last two federal elections.

The report alleged that foreign interference had been detected across a broad swath of Canadian politics and society, including every level of government, every political party, the media and the private sector.

It also made explosive allegations that some MPs had "wittingly" participated in efforts by other countries to interfere in Canadian politics. In one case, an MP allegedly sought a meeting with a foreign intelligence official and gave that official confidential information.

The report suggested all the actions of the MPs involved were "unethical," and some could be considered illegal. 

While the names of the MPs were likely included in the full report, the paragraphs that would contain them were redacted from the version made public on Monday.

Freeland was pressed at a news conference Tuesday morning about why the names of those MPs are being kept secret and why no charges have been laid, given some of the actions could constitute treason.

"I think your question is an important (one) because the findings of the committee are concerning, and they should be," she said.

But she said the government cannot be the one to pursue charges.

"I do really want to emphasize it needs to be law enforcement that takes the steps and takes the actions," she said. "The actual enforcement actions can't be politicized."

The Canadian Press has asked the RCMP if it is investigating any MPs as a result of the report and is awaiting a response.

Housing Minister Sean Fraser said there may be reasons to keep the names secret for now, including that the "veracity" of the evidence isn't known. 

He also said openly discussing evidence of foreign interference may help the very people trying to harm Canada and its institutions.

Fraser said if there is a criminal investigation and charges, then that will play out publicly, as usual, in the courts.

Freeland dismissed suggestions that this report further undermines confidence Canadians have in their government and electoral systems, particularly as the government is not saying if any of the MPs alleged to be involved are still sitting in Parliament.

She also avoided answering whether the Liberals would remove any of their MPs from caucus, if they are among those involved.

"The guarantee I can give to Canadians is our government takes foreign interference very, very seriously," she said.

"We have put in place tougher measures than existed under the previous Conservative government to fight foreign interference."

The report, however, criticized the government for not reacting to foreign interference threats with enough vigour. 

It said the government has done the necessary policy work and gathered the intelligence it needs but still has not implemented an effective response to counter foreign interference.

Allegations that foreign actors attempted to interfere in the results of the last two elections have dogged the government for more than a year. The Liberals were forced by opposition parties to call a public inquiry into the matter. 

An interim report from that inquiry released last month said China had attempted to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, but that it did not effect the overall results, which returned the Liberals to power with a minority government.

Justice Marie-Josée Hogue said the meddling may have affected the results in a small number of ridings, but there is no certainty about that and the overall integrity of the elections remained intact.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2024. 

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