The Foreign Interference Commission’s (FIC) first day of public hearings in Ottawa, ON, on Monday included the commission’s acknowledgement that the federal government retains discretion over any public disclosure of information it deems classified in the context of the FIC’s public hearings.
Gordon Cameron, one of the FIC’s lawyers, explained the protocols governing distribution of information deemed classified by the federal government.
Justice Marie-Josée Hogue, a judge on Quebec’s Court of Appeal selected by the federal government to be the FIC’s commissioner, will have full access to all classified information brought to the commission’s attention alongside the FIC’s counsel.
Cameron noted that the federal government has authority to restrict public access to any documents or information it deems classified. If the commission disagrees with the federal government’s restriction of public access to such information, it can request a reconsideration.
A federal government decision to prevent public disclosure of information it labels “classified” can only be overridden by a federal court if the commission chooses to legally contest such a decision and succeeds in doing so.
Cameron stated that classification of information is applied to address two broad categories of concern: information that, if disclosed, could be “injurious” to specific individuals or to Canadian national security interests, and those of its allies. Such classifications, he added, could restrict access to such information both within the government and to the public.
Hogue said the FIC was established in response to allegations and claims among the political class and news media of foreign governments’ interference in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
The governments of China, Russia, and India would be of primary focus in the inquiry, Hogue added. No mention was made of foreign interference from the United States government, nor U.S.-based institutions such as news media outlets, academic institutions, or political organizations marketed as non-governmental organizations, charities, and non-profits. The FIC’s mandate includes a stated goal of investigating foreign interference from “non-state actors”.
Former Governor General David Johnston resigned in 2023 from his role as special rapporteur investigating claims of Chinese interference in 2019 and 2021 following passage of a parliamentary motion calling for his removal from the position. He was nominated for the role by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.
Johnston helped install a Confucius Institute – an arm of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) marketed as a cooperative educational endeavor – at Waterloo University during his previous role as the school’s president.
The first slate of the FIC’s public hearings regarding foreign political interference are scheduled until Friday, with the second slate tentatively scheduled for March.