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Former Trudeau advisers call for public inquiry into China's election interference – The Globe and Mail



Former advisors to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are calling for an independent inquiry into Beijing-directed interference operations into the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. Mr. Trudeau says he was satisfied with the examination of Chinese interference operations now being conducted by the Commons committee on procedure and House affairs.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Two former advisers to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as the leader of the New Democrats, say that a non-partisan public inquiry into Chinese state-directed interference into the 2019 and 2021 federal elections is warranted.

However, Ward Elcock, a former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said he doesn’t back such an inquiry because national-security restrictions would mean that important testimony would have to be conducted in secret and many of the details and evidence could never be revealed to Canadians.

“Most of those hearings are not going to be in public,” Mr. Elcock said in an interview with The Globe and Mail on Sunday.


Nonetheless, Richard Fadden, another former CSIS director, who was national-security adviser to Mr. Trudeau, told The Globe on Saturday that an inquiry would provide an “objective” examination to determine how extensive China’s interference operations have been.

“I believe that a public inquiry is necessary because of the importance of the issues raised in the sense that few issues more directly affect our sovereignty than having another state interfere with our democratic process,” Mr. Fadden said.

Gerald Butts, who was Mr. Trudeau’s principal secretary until he resigned during the SNC-Lavalin affair in 2019, said Sunday that he too thinks a non-partisan inquiry is necessary, to look at the broad spectrum of foreign interference and not just China’s activities.

“The radical changes in geopolitics and technological advancements of the past several years mean we’re in a different, more dangerous world where many foreign actors have an interest in harming democratic institutions and the capacity to do it,” he told The Globe. “We should be confident in our democratic institutions, but we should guard them aggressively.”

New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh said he is troubled by reports from The Globe and Global News, citing highly classified CSIS documents, outlining the extent of Chinese interference operations in the 2019 and 2021 elections.

“The way to stop alleged secret Chinese interference is to refuse to keep their secrets for them. A fully independent and non-partisan public inquiry is the way to shine a light into the shadows,” Mr. Singh said in a statement provided to The Globe on Sunday.

“I share people’s disappointment in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s shifting and casual responses to these incredibly serious allegations. What he knew, when he knew it and how he responded matters,” he said.

Mr. Trudeau ruled out a public inquiry on Friday, as requested by former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley.

Mr. Kingsley said an independent inquiry is necessary because Beijing-directed interference operations in leaked secret and top-secret CSIS reports, which were viewed by The Globe, threaten to undermine confidence in the electoral system. He said Canadians must be able to “trust that the electoral process is not being tampered with by a foreign government.”

Mr. Trudeau said he was satisfied with the examination of Chinese interference operations now being conducted by the Commons committee on procedure and House affairs, but Mr. Fadden said its work will be hampered because of partisanship and lack of access to secret intelligence reports.

“The issue is so important that it needs to be looked at in an objective way. While a parliamentary review might be useful, it is so partisan that it puts into doubt its ability to come to an objective set of conclusions,” Mr. Fadden said.

Mr. Fadden, who also served as national-security adviser to Stephen Harper, said a judge should be appointed to head an inquiry and be given access to all unredacted intelligence, as well as subpoena powers to call cabinet ministers and senior officials.

He said that could even include calling the Prime Minister to testify on what he knew about China’s activities: “This is a democracy and nobody should be immune,” he said.

Mr. Elcock, however, predicted that the government would likely be reluctant to divulge details to the inquiry that touch on sensitive counterintelligence investigations. He said that, as a result, the public would have to take the inquiry’s findings on trust.

He said the matter should be referred to the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, a body that has clearance to examine national-security documents.

He did, however, support the establishment of a registry of foreign agents to track those who are being paid or otherwise remunerated for working in Canada on behalf of other governments, including China.

Mr. Elcock said that as things stand now, Canada should be responding to reports of foreign interference by taking action. One option, he said, would be expelling a Chinese diplomat.

Mr. Butts said he is also supportive of a foreign-agent registry, which is already in place in Australia and the United States. The Trudeau government has been studying the idea since February, 2021.

Conservatives on the procedure and House affairs committee have complained that the Liberals and NDP blocked a motion on Tuesday to call Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford. The motion by Conservative MP Michael Cooper would also have allowed the Commons Law Clerk, who has a security clearance, to review all the classified CSIS reports and redact information that could be injurious to national security.

“If the committee process is going to work, it is imperative that the government produce the documents and the redactions be independent,” Mr. Cooper said.

CSIS reports outline how China backed the re-election of the Trudeau Liberals and worked to defeat Conservative politicians considered to be unfriendly to Beijing.

But those documents show that Beijing did not want the Liberals to win a majority. One Chinese diplomat was quoted as saying in July, 2021 – eight weeks before the September election – that China “likes it when the parties in Parliament are fighting with each other.”

CSIS reports in 2021 said the Chinese state is targeting all levels of government from municipal to provincial to federal. They said China is targeting political staffers because “staffers control schedules and often act as gatekeepers” for MPs, “thereby placing them in positions where they can deceptively control and influence the activities of elected officials in ways that support [People’s Republic of China] interests.”

The Globe reported that the CSIS documents show how China spread falsehoods on social media and provided undeclared cash donations in the 2021 election. The documents also lay out how Beijing directed Chinese students studying in Canada to work as campaign volunteers, and illegally returned portions of donations so donors were not out of pocket after claiming a tax receipt.

A Feb. 18, 2020 CSIS intelligence report assessed that at least 11 candidates in the 2019 election were the target of foreign interference. It said the 11, along with 13 members of their staffs, had direct connections to a “known or suspected malign actor.” The report says these candidates had at least one direct connection to a person of interest in CSIS’s investigation of Chinese foreign interference.

Meanwhile, the Privy Council Office said the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol panel, an independent group of senior civil servants set up in 2019 to assess and analyze foreign election interference, will soon publicly release its report into the 2021 election.

The Prime Minister’s Office has already seen the report. PMO press secretary Ann-Clara Vaillancourt told The Globe last week that the panel concluded that “while foreign interference attempts absolutely existed, the 2019 and 2021 elections unfolded with integrity.”

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Opposition to David Johnston's appointment shows how much politics has changed – The Globe and Mail



The strong opposition to David Johnston’s appointment as special rapporteur investigating Chinese interference in elections reveals how our times, and our politics, have changed.

In a previous column, I suggested that Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre should accept Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s choice of Mr. Johnston on the grounds that the former governor-general was appointed to that post by then-Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, and that he is one of this country’s most trusted, and trustworthy, figures.

Instead, Mr. Poilievre assailed the choice on the grounds that Mr. Johnston was a friend of the Trudeau family and a member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, a charity.


“Justin Trudeau has named a ‘family friend,’ old neighbour from the cottage, and member of the Beijing-funded Trudeau foundation, to be the ‘independent’ rapporteur on Beijing’s interference,” he tweeted. “Get real. Trudeau must end his cover up. Call a public inquiry.”

Other Conservative MPs, including former leader Andrew Scheer and Thornhill MP Melissa Lantsman, also tweeted their objection. And many commentators, including my colleague Andrew Coyne and The Globe and Mail’s editorial board, cited Mr. Johnston’s friendship with the Trudeau family in criticizing the choice.

I believe that Mr. Johnston’s decades of service to this country, his unimpeachable integrity and his sound judgment more than compensate for any objections. This is an issue on which people of goodwill can simply disagree.

But other factors are also at work.

Much has been made of the toxicity of social media. But the decline of deference was under way long before that. In the main, it’s good that people are less willing than in the past to defer to authority, that they demand accountability from political and other leaders.

But an engrained cynicism has become an unwelcome byproduct of that process. The headline on John Ivison’s column in the National Post said it best: “David Johnston is a man of trust in a post-trust world.”

In this post-trust world, a new generation of conservatives is taking the stage. Many of them are fearsomely smart. Some of them are politically ruthless. All of them are contemptuous of the Laurentian political, academic and cultural elites who have traditionally run this country. Of course they would reject Mr. Johnston as rapporteur. He is as Laurentian as they come.

In Pierre Poilievre, they have found someone who speaks their language and shares their polarizing worldview. Mr. Poilievre was never a senior figure in Mr. Harper’s governments, arriving in cabinet late and spending most of that time in a minor portfolio. Mr. Harper distrusted the populist wing of the conservative base. It is why he left the Reform Party in the 1990s and why he kept most of the more populist MPs on the back bench. Mr. Poilievre courts populists with enthusiasm.

He must know that Mr. Harper likes and admires Mr. Johnston. But rather than respectfully expressing reservation about the appointment, the Conservative Leader tweets in derision. This isn’t Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party any more.

That said, Mr. Trudeau bears most of the blame for the hostility that greeted the announcement of Mr. Johnston as rapporteur. After more than seven years in office, polls show that most voters disapprove of his performance, and with good reason.

He dismissed the initial reports from The Globe and Global News of Chinese interference in federal elections. He blamed the whistle-blowers. He accused his critics of racism. MPs on a committee investigating the allegations filibustered. Finally, with the crisis escalating and all sides calling for a public inquiry, he promised to appoint a rapporteur to make recommendations on next steps.

The next step should have been to convene that public inquiry. There is a growing body of evidence that the Chinese government has attempted to manipulate elections in Canada, including the mayor’s race in Vancouver and the federal elections of 2019 and 2021. This interference, along with what the Prime Minister knew about it and what he did about it, must be thoroughly investigated.

In appointing a rapporteur to examine the files and make recommendations, Mr. Trudeau is delaying the inevitable. It’s a damn shame that the reputation of someone as honourable as David Johnston should be brought into question through the Prime Minister’s efforts to avoid responsibility.

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Opinion: What a Justice's leave of absence reveals about politics and the Supreme Court – The Globe and Mail



Allan C. Hutchinson is a distinguished research professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and the author of The Companies We Keep: Corporate Governance for a Democratic Society.

The controversy surrounding Justice Russell Brown’s leave from the Supreme Court, which began in February and is under investigation by the Canadian Judicial Council, has many different dimensions and implications. Apart from the question of whether he will or should return to the court following a confidential complaint from a member of the public, one issue occupying observers’ minds is what this means for the handling of cases presently before the court.

There are differences of opinion on whether the court should sit as a group of eight (and allow for the possibility of a tied vote) or seven (and face the dilemma of whom to leave out). This is a pressing issue, especially in regard to an important case to be heard this week on federalism and environmental legislation.


However, within and behind this debate is a much more fundamental matter – the relationship between constitutional law and politics. In particular, whether sensitive and contested issues of federalism are being decided in line with the dictates of constitutional law or by reliance on partial political stands and values.

The central bone of contention seems to be that the Albertan Justice Brown is considered to be a strong proponent of provincial rights and was almost certain to rule against the constitutionality of the federal government’s wide-ranging legislation to tackle pollution problems. So, if there is to be a bench of seven, the identity and federalism leanings of the justice who sits out the case must be treated as a matter of some delicacy and importance.

The premise on which this debate is based is troubling for those who maintain that constitutional law should and must trump constitutional politics. Traditionally, it is usually insisted that the legitimacy of the Supreme Court rests on its capacity to transcend political contestation by acting with measured, rational and non-ideological level-headedness. Judges deal in principles, not politics.

The received wisdom is that, while there are underlying and sharp ideological differences between different governments about climate change and the best response to be made, there exists a deeper and more unifying commitment to the idea that the Canadian Constitution stands apart from prosaic politics. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his provincial colleagues play politics and get their hands dirty, Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner and his puisne associates are expected to keep their hands clean of any political dirt.

But the general acceptance that Justice Brown is pre-disposed to be pro-provincial and that some of his colleagues, including Chief Justice Wagner, are more than likely to be pro-federal, has massive ramifications. Any notion that these judges are somehow neutral and impartial goes out the window. They are involved in the same ideological game as their political counterparts.

The fact is that, while courts may well be impartial to the competing claims of the present federal and provincial governments in terms of party politics, they are not and cannot be impartial between competing visions and versions of federalism. Although viewed as being more technical than political, federalism disputes involve deep-seated and contested accounts of governmental arrangements, social values, institutional power and democratic accountability.

So, while courts and legislatures may have different discourses, different styles and different legitimacies when talking about a fair allocation of powers between the federal and provincial governments, they are no less political for that. In other words, judges can hide their views, but they cannot avoid making political choices.

The whole debacle over Justice Brown’s absence draws attention to this state of affairs. Perhaps inadvertently, but still revealingly, the ensuing debate has demonstrated that judges do have politics and that, more significantly, they do rely on them to animate their decisions and reasonings. Otherwise, why would it matter who sits and who doesn’t?

Both judicial sides of the federalism debate can claim support for their positions; the doctrines of constitutional law are so capacious, so inconsistent and so accommodating in their reach and substance that they can confer a necessary baseline of legal validity on either a pro-provincial or pro-federal approach. Understood this way, the rule of law becomes little more than the rule of five: the stand that garners the support of five judges wins.

None of this is to suggest that the judges act in bad faith or are decidedly manipulative in fulfilling their judicial duties. It is that there is no way to engage with and resolve federalism issues in a way that can claim to be acting in the neutral and detached way that the judges and their traditional allies suppose. Constitutional law is politics. And Canadians need to appreciate that.

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Algorithms are moulding and shaping our politics. Here’s how to avoid being gamed



In 2016, evidence began to mount that then-South African president Jacob Zuma and a family of Indian-born businessmen, the Guptas, were responsible for widespread “state capture”. It was alleged that the Gupta family influenced Zuma’s political appointments and benefited unfairly from lucrative tenders.

The Guptas began to look for a way to divert attention away from them. They enlisted the help of British public relations firm Bell Pottinger, which drew on the country’s existing racial and economic tensions to develop a social media campaign centred on the role of “white monopoly capital” in continuing “economic apartheid”.

The campaign was driven by the power of algorithms. The company created over 100 fake Twitter bots or automated Twitter accounts that run on bot software – computer programs designed to perform tasks and actions, ranging from rather simple ones to quite complex ones; in this case, to simulate human responses for liking and retweeting tweets.

This weaponisation of communications is not limited to South Africa. Examples from elsewhere in Africa abound, including Russia currying favour in Burkina Faso via Facebook and coordinated Twitter campaigns by factions representing opposing Kenyan politicians. It’s seen beyond the continent, too – in March 2023, researchers identified a network of thousands of fake Twitter accounts created to support former US president Donald Trump.


Legal scholar Antoinette Rouvroy calls this “algorithmic governmentality”. It’s the reduction of government to algorithmic processes as if society is a problem of big data sets rather than one of how collective life is (or should be) arranged and managed by the individuals in that society.

In a recent paper, I coined the term “algopopulism”: algorithmically aided politics. The political content in our personal feeds not only represents the world and politics to us. It creates new, sometimes “alternative”, realities. It changes how we encounter and understand politics and even how we understand reality itself.

One reason algopopulism spreads so effectively is that it’s very difficult to know exactly how our perceptions are being shaped. This is deliberate. Algorithms are designed in a sophisticated way to override human reasoning.

So, what can you do to protect yourself from being “gamed” by algorithmic processes? The answers, I suggest, lie in understanding a bit more about the digital shift that’s brought us to this point and the ideas of a British statistician, Thomas Bayes, who lived more than 300 years ago.

How the shift happened

Five recent developments in the technology space have led to algorithmic governmentality: considerable improvements in hardware; generous, flexible storage via the cloud; the explosion of data and data accumulation; the development of deep convoluted networks and sophisticated algorithms to sort through the extracted data; and the development of fast, cheap networks to transfer data.

Together, these developments have transformed data science into something more than a mere technological tool. It has become a method for using data not only to predict how you engage with digital media, but to preempt your actions and thoughts.

This is not to say that all digital technology is harmful. Rather, I want to point out one of its greatest risks: we are all susceptible to having our thoughts shaped by algorithms, sometimes in ways that can have real-world effects, such as when they affect democratic elections.

Bayesian statistics

That’s where Thomas Bayes comes in. Bayes was an English statistician; Bayesian statistics, the dominant paradigm in machine learning, is named after him.

Before Bayes, computational processes relied on frequentist statistics. Most people have encountered this method in one way or another, as in the case of how probable it is that a coin will land heads-up and tails-down. This approach starts from the assumption that the coin is fair and hasn’t been tampered with. This is called a null hypothesis.

Bayesian statistics does not require a null hypothesis; it changes the kinds of questions asked about probability entirely. Instead of assuming a coin is fair and measuring the probability of heads or tails, it asks us instead to consider whether the system for measuring probability is fair. Instead of assuming the truth of a null hypothesis, Bayesian inference starts with a measure of subjective belief which it updates as more evidence – or data – is gathered in real time.

How does this play out via algorithms? Let’s say you heard a rumour that the world is flat and you do a Google search for articles that affirm this view. Based on this search, the measure of subjective belief the algorithms have to work with is “the world is flat”. Gradually, the algorithms will curate your feed to show you articles that confirm this belief unless you have purposefully searched for opposing views too.

That’s because Bayesian approaches use prior distributions, knowledge or beliefs as a starting point of probability. Unless you change your prior distributions, the algorithm will continue providing evidence to confirm your initial measure of subjective belief.

But how can you know to change your priors if your priors are being confirmed by your search results all the time? This is the dilemma of algopopulism: Bayesian probability allows algorithms to create sophisticated filter bubbles that are difficult to discount because all your search results are based on your previous searches.

So, there is no longer a uniform version of reality presented to a specific population, like there was when TV news was broadcast to everyone in a nation at the same time. Instead, we each have a version of reality. Some of this overlaps with what others see and hear and some doesn’t.

Engaging differently online

Understanding this can change how you search online and engage with knowledge.

To avoid filter bubbles, always search for opposing views. If you haven’t done this from the start, do a search on a private browser and compare the results you get. More importantly, check your personal investment. What do you get out of taking a specific stance on a subject? For example, does it make you feel part of something meaningful because you lack real-life social bonds? Finally, endeavour to choose reliable sources. Be aware of a source’s bias from the start and avoid anonymously published content.

In these ways we can all be custodians of our individual and collective behaviour.


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