TORONTO (AP) — Canada announced Wednesday that a judge would lead a public inquiry into whether China, Russia and other countries interfered in Canadian federal elections in 2019 and 2021 that re-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.
Opposition Conservative lawmakers have demanded a full public inquiry into alleged Chinese interference since reports surfaced earlier this year citing intelligence sources saying China worked to support the Liberals and to defeat Conservative politicians considered unfriendly to Beijing.
The opposition New Democrat party later pushed to expand any inquiry to include Russia, Iran and India.
Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Thursday that Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue would lead the broad-ranging inquiry and that her appointment had the support of opposition parties.
“Foreign interference in Canadian democratic institutions is unacceptable,” LeBlanc said. “China is not the only foreign actor that seeks to undermine democratic institutions in Canada or other Western democracies. This challenge is not unique to Canada.”
A Trudeau appointee earlier this year had rejected holding a public inquiry into the leaked intelligence on alleged China interference, drawing allegations of a cover-up from the Conservative opposition. That appointee, former Governor General David Johnston, stepped down from his role in June, citing the highly partisan atmosphere around his work.
The government then indicated it was open to calling a possible public inquiry, and invited all parties into talks over the summer on the shape of such an inquiry.
LeBlanc, who is also the minister for democratic institutions, said the inquiry will study allegations related to China, Russia, Iran and India linked to the 2019 and 2021 federal elections and report by the end of next year. He said the inquiry will also examine the flow of foreign-interference assessments to senior government decision makers.
Earlier this year, Canada expelled a Chinese diplomat whom Canada’s spy agency alleged was involved in a plot to intimidate an opposition Conservative lawmaker and his relatives in Hong Kong after the Conservative lawmaker criticized Beijing’s human rights record. China then announced the expulsion of a Canadian diplomat in retaliation this month.
China regularly uses threats against family members to intimidate critics in the Chinese diaspora.
China-Canada relations nosedived in 2018 after China detained former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor, shortly after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of telecoms giant Huawei and the daughter of the company’s founder, at the behest of U.S. authorities who accused her of fraud.