March 5th, 2024

Foreign interference inquiry to probe thorny questions on secrecy as hearings begin

By Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press on January 29, 2024.

David Vigneault, Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), organizes his notes as he prepares to appear before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC), studying the intimidation campaign against Members of Parliament, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Tuesday, June 13, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA – A federal inquiry into foreign interference begins a week of hearings today on the preliminary point of how to handle the shroud of official secrecy around the controversial issue.

The inquiry says the initial five days of hearings will help identify ways to make information public, even though much of it comes from classified documents and sources.

The discussions on national security and confidentiality of information will help set the stage for the next public hearings, likely to take place at the end of March.

The March hearings are intended to delve into allegations of foreign interference by China, India, Russia and others in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, with a report on these matters due May 3.

The inquiry will then turn to policy issues, looking at the ability of the government to detect, deter and counter foreign interference targeting Canada’s democratic processes.

A final report is due by the end of the year.

The inquiry says the first order of business is identifying the “challenges, limitations and potential adverse impacts” of disclosing classified national security information and intelligence to the public.

“This is one of the biggest challenges that the commission will face,” commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue said in a statement.

“I look forward to hearing from experts, academics and practitioners in the field of national security to help us identify strategies that will allow us to share as much information with Canadians as possible through our hearings and reports, even though much of the information that we receive will originate from classified documents and sources.”

Participants will also have a chance to suggest ideas on maximizing transparency, given the limitations, Hogue added.

The first day of hearings is slated to begin with an opening statement from Hogue, followed by introductions by participants and presentations from commission counsel.

On Tuesday, a panel of university professors will make presentations on balancing national security and the public interest.

Former senior officials of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service are scheduled to appear Wednesday, followed Thursday by current intelligence personnel, including CSIS director David Vigneault.

The hearings are to wrap up Friday with remarks from Dominic LeBlanc, minister of public safety, democratic institutions and intergovernmental affairs, as well as the closing submissions of participants.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2024.

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