Foreign Interference Inquiry: Many Questions Still Remain, Including Why Intelligence Was Ignored

More and more is being learned about foreign interference in Canadian elections and less and less is being done about it

This piece first appeared in The Epoch Times Canada on May 4, 2024

Many questions still linger after the interim report on foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections was released on May 3.

In fairness to Justice Hogue, she had little time to weigh the significance of a tonne of material, much of it classified. And yet there it was, a 194-page brick of a summary. Although that begs the question: Who reads a 194-page behemoth full of government-speak?

Despite its length, a lot of questions remain unanswered and some conclusions drawn are baffling—and unsupported, to my mind.

First, to the questions still in need of a response. Why was intelligence ignored? Why did the prime minister not take the time to read what CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) provided him and his team? Why did the PM say that CSIS intelligence is not good enough? Why did the Liberal Party not prevent busloads of non-Canadian citizens from attending nomination meetings? Why were opposition MPs not informed of attempts by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to undermine their campaigns? The list goes on and on.

Secondly, many of the conclusive statements are anything but conclusive and reassuring. Justice Hogue stated at the very end of her report that “the evidence I have heard to date does not demonstrate bad faith on anyone’s part, or that information was deliberately and improperly withheld.” Huh? What else does one call the deliberate sidelining of intelligence and a decision not to share it with those who need to know? A typical day at the office?

Furthermore, she wrote: “Votes are secret in Canada. It is therefore not possible to directly link the misleading media narrative with how any given voter cast their ballot. Furthermore, even assuming that some votes were changed, there is no way to know whether there was enough to affect the result.” And yet she dismissed the overall effect on the results: “I can conclude with confidence that the Liberal Party would have been in government with or without foreign interference in 2019 and 2021.”

There is a disconnect here. Perhaps the Liberals would have indeed won even with PRC actions—which were in their favour and in support of their interests, by the way—but there is no way to tell just how much of the vote was swayed thanks to PRC interference. Madame Justice is far too cocky in her conclusions as to the outcome of our vote.

Naively, she wrote that “the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which communicates a great deal of information and works hard to raise awareness of the importance of tackling foreign interference, is nevertheless circumspect with details when informing others of the intelligence it has gathered and the conclusions it has drawn.”

Circumspect? No, it’s a case of CSIS exercising required care when it comes to sources and methods. This single sentence demonstrates an appalling lack of understanding on how intelligence works and is further proof of what I call a poor intelligence culture in Canada. CSIS does not have all the answers and is not perfect, but the degree of care and review that takes place before information of this nature and import is shared is tremendous. CSIS did its due diligence; its clients, i.e., the prime minister, his team, and the wider bureaucracy, did not.

Apparently, there is more to come (194 pages was not enough?). Maybe we will learn more when the next doorstop of a report is made public. Until then, we are left with a worrying notion that foreign interference, which did occur without any doubt, left a “stain” on our democracy and undermined Canadians’ trust in the whole election process, as stated in the report. A stain is something you leave on your couch when you spill the salsa while celebrating a Vancouver Canucks goal. The damage to our fundamental belief in free, unfettered, and fair elections is of a different order entirely.

I, for one, will not spend the next umpteen months waiting with baited breath for part two (the “final” report). I have better things to do, like spend time at the cottage, than to breathlessly anticipate yet another 194-page anchor that will do little, if anything, to get to the bottom of foreign interference and provide real solutions on how to prevent it.

I wish I could say otherwise, as I am normally an optimist. Not this time.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.