Former governor general David Johnston named special rapporteur on foreign meddling

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Former governor general David Johnston has been named as the special rapporteur on foreign interference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday.

Johnston has been asked to look into allegations of foreign meddling in Canada’s last two federal elections and recommend what the Liberal government should do about it.

That could include a public inquiry, which opposition parties have been calling for in recent weeks after Global News and the Globe and Mail newspaper reported allegations of Chinese interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

His recommendations, which could involve calling for some other independent review process, will be made public and the Liberal government has said it will abide by the guidance.

In a written statement released Wednesday, Trudeau said the appointment was made after consultations with all parties in the House of Commons.

“Canadians need to have confidence in our electoral system, and in our democracy,” Trudeau said, adding that Johnston brings integrity, a wealth of experience and skills.

“I am confident that he will conduct an impartial review to ensure all necessary steps are being taken to keep our democracy safe and uphold and strengthen confidence in it.”

Johnston was named governor general on the advice of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010, and his term was extended under Trudeau until 2017.

In 2007, Harper had asked Johnston to be a special adviser to draft the terms of reference for the Oliphant Commission, a public inquiry into the business and financial dealings between former prime minister Brian Mulroney and German Canadian businessman Karlheinz Schreiber.

Johnston has law degrees from the University of Cambridge and Queen’s University. He was a law professor for 45 years and was also president of the University of Waterloo.

A press release announcing his appointment on Wednesday said Johnston will step down from his role as the head of the Leaders’ Debates Commission, which arranges debates during Canada’s federal elections.

Trudeau announced the plan to appoint an “eminent Canadian” to the role earlier this month, saying at the time that the government will abide by the recommendations.

A mandate for Johnston’s new role is being finalized and will be made public, the prime minister said.

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians is also examining the state of foreign interference in Canada’s democratic processes since 2018.

Trudeau has also urged another spy watchdog, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, to look into foreign interference in light of recent concerns about possible Chinese meddling in the last two federal elections.

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