Published June 6, 2024

LeBlanc accuses Tories of theatrics as they push for names of MPs in meddling report

By Jim Bronskill
The Peace Tower of Parliament Hill is pictured in Ottawa, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc accused Conservative MPs of theatrics Thursday as they pressed the government to release the names of MPs allegedly engaged in foreign interference. 

An intelligence watchdog said in a public report this week that some MPs wittingly assisted the efforts of foreign states to meddle in Canadian politics. 

The blunt report has prompted concern that members knowingly involved in interference might still be active in politics, and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre called Wednesday for the Liberal government to disclose their names. 

Tory members of the House of Commons public safety and national security committee challenged LeBlanc on Thursday on the government's refusal to reveal their identities.

"Do you think Canadians have a right to know, yes or no?" asked Conservative MP Frank Caputo.

LeBlanc told the committee that intelligence reports can contain unverified information that fails to provide a complete picture. 

"One particular piece of the puzzle, an intelligence source or information, may not have a context, may be discredited or altered by subsequent information," he said. "So the idea that there's a perfect list of names, that is entirely reliable that should be released to the public is simply irresponsible."

It is up to the RCMP to investigate and lay charges if warranted, as that's how things work in a rule-of-law democracy, said LeBlanc, adding there's a "certain disingenuous element" to Caputo's theatrics.

The testy exchanges took place as committee members met to hear from LeBlanc and other witnesses on a sweeping government bill to counter foreign interference.

The bill tabled in the House early last month includes a variety of measures to deter, investigate and punish foreign meddling.

It would introduce new criminal provisions against deceptive or surreptitious acts, allow for the broader sharing of sensitive information and establish a foreign influence transparency registry.

The committee says members must present proposed amendments to the bill by Friday afternoon in anticipation of clause-by-clause consideration early next week. 

In a letter Thursday to the committee, 14 civil society groups expressed "deep concerns" that MPs are wrapping up hearings on the bill after only about a week. 

The organizations warned that the unusually swift parliamentary study of the bill could result in flawed laws that violate people's rights. 

A rushed process for a bill of such scope will undermine the ability to hold a full and meaningful study, risking adoption of laws that will violate Charter-protected rights and freedoms, the letter said.

It was signed by Amnesty International's Canadian section, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Muslim Public Affairs Council, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group and Ligue des droits et libertés, among others. 

"We recognize the importance of addressing harassment, threats and violence against people, including when enacted by foreign governments in order to repress the exercise of fundamental rights or engagement in democratic processes," the letter said. 

"However, the changes proposed by this legislation go much further. If adopted, this bill will bring extensive changes to Canada’s national security, intelligence and criminal justice systems, in addition to creating a foreign influence registry of considerable, albeit uncertain, scope." 

As a consequence, the bill will have significant effects on the lives and fundamental rights of people in Canada, including risks of increased surveillance, diminished privacy, and limits on freedom of expression and association, the letter added. 

"The result is that organizations and individuals who would have requested to appear, or would have submitted written briefs, will be unable to on such short timelines. Developing specific amendments to suggest by this Friday's deadline is nearly impossible." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2024.

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