Telford says national security limits what she can say on foreign interference

As a senior adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Katie Telford has top-secret security clearance

By Mickey Djuric in Ottawa

The prime minister’s chief of staff offered up few details to a House committee studying foreign interference in the last two elections, frustrating Conservatives and New Democrats who say her lack of answers Friday will erode trust.

Katie Telford said she should not be at the procedure and House affairs committee answering questions about national security but she agreed to appear “because I want Parliament to work.”

As a senior adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Telford has top-secret security clearance.

“In my years in this job, I have seen a huge range of intelligence from all parts of the world. Some of it has been wrong … some of it, right,” Telford said.

“Some we may never know or only with time will we learn if it’s true.”

She said she was limited in what she could disclose to the committee because it could put Canadians in danger, hurt the country’s relationship with its allies, and lead to an inability to get future intelligence.

“I can’t provide information of what I have been briefed on in a public setting,” she said.

The Conservatives pressed Telford to confirm specific allegations that appeared in recent news reports that allege China meddled in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

Telford suggested that some of the reporting was inaccurate, without providing details. She said she would not act outside boundaries that have been set by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, whose director previously testified at the committee.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper said her lack of answers did not inspire confidence in the matter, and instead invited suspicion.

The New Democrats, who continue to push for a public inquiry to analyze foreign interference, said allegations that have appeared in media reports leads to “a lack of trust Canadians have in institutions.”

Telford said foreign interference doesn’t fall under the authority of the prime minister or cabinet, and if disciplinary action is needed, it’s dealt with by national security agencies, including the RCMP, as well as Elections Canada.

Trudeau has appointed David Johnston as a special rapporteur to investigate allegations of foreign interference in the last two federal elections.

His recommendations, which could involve calling for a public inquiry or some other independent review process, will be made public.

The Liberal government has said it will follow the guidance.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2023.