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Foreign interference | The Commissioner of Elections assesses complaints



(Ottawa) The office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections is reviewing complaints received in recent weeks about allegations of foreign interference.

“This analysis is in progress as I speak to you,” said Commissioner Caroline Simard on Thursday opening testimony before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Mme Simard assured that the exercise conducted by his office was impartial and independent of the government in power. “I understand the importance of this issue and the need to reassure Canadians in the current exceptional circumstances,” she said.

The commissioner clarified that the purpose of the analysis of the complaints was to determine whether the allegations are founded under the Canada Elections Act. She pointed out that this would not, however, allow her to decide on the validity of electoral results.

The parliamentary committee is investigating allegations of foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections. Mme Simard is one of a series of witnesses who will parade before federal elected officials on Thursday, notably in the company of the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) David Vigneault.

Appearing alongside Mme Simard, the chief electoral officer, Stéphane Perrault, mentioned that the questions raised in a recent report by the daily The Globe and Mail were “extremely concerning for our democracy and our sovereignty”.

However, he said he was unable to comment on the accuracy of the article since the information reported was not communicated to him. He nevertheless invited the deputies to consider the report with “a certain caution”.

In recent months, pressure has mounted on Justin Trudeau’s government to provide more information on how Ottawa is responding to threats posed by foreign interference.

A series of network reports Overall and everyday The Globe and Mail detailed Chinese-orchestrated attempts at interference in the past two federal election campaigns. These allegations were mentioned in anonymous leaks to the media from sources in Canadian security agencies.

The committee heard on Wednesday from the prime minister’s national security adviser, Jody Thomas, and members of a task force who provide officials with information on possible election threats.

On this occasion, NDP MP Peter Julian presented a motion to call for a public inquiry into foreign interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, which the Bloc Québécois and the Conservatives also want.

The Bloc, however, put forward their own motion to this effect, which specifies that the appointment of the commissioner responsible for the investigation should occur following an agreement between all the parties.

Both motions are expected to be debated later Thursday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has so far not completely ruled out the possibility of a public, independent inquiry, but hasn’t seemed keen on the idea.

He pointed out that the parliamentary committee’s study is taking place publicly, including testimony from government intelligence advisers.

On Wednesday, he nevertheless said he was “always open to doing more” to reassure Canadians that the institutions are “robust and equipped to counter foreign interference”.

Mr. Trudeau recalled in recent days that his government has established an election monitoring committee and that it has concluded that the integrity of the last two general elections has been preserved despite attempts to interfere.

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