The independent inquiry into foreign electoral interference is officially underway. Over the next year, the commission will dip in and out of the public eye as it tries to determine what happened in the past two federal elections and whether Ottawa has a handle on the issue.
The team has been asked to investigate the extent to which China, Russia and other nations interfered in those elections, and how information about foreign interference flowed within the federal government.
Here’s a look at some of the key players in the room.
Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue
The Quebec Court of Appeal Judge says the job of her commission is to “uncover the truth, whatever it may be.”
During her opening remarks Monday, she told the room she has taken steps to remain neutral and impartial.
While the commission has been working for weeks on getting everything in place, Hogue said she has not yet reviewed the evidence to avoid drawing premature conclusions.
“I have chosen this approach to ensure that I have no preconceived ideas, and I will adhere to it throughout the commission’s work,” she said.
Lead counsel Shantona Chaudhury
A familiar face to those who followed the Emergencies Act commission last year, Shantona Chaudhury is lead counsel at the Hogue Commission.
She is supported by a team of lawyers, including another individual who took part in the Rouleau Commission: Gordon Cameron, who has a long history working in national security law.
Paul Cavalluzzo, senior policy adviser to the Hogue Commission, has a long history with such commissions. He was lead counsel for the inquiry in the case of Maher Arar — which concluded that the RCMP wrongly identified Arar and his wife to U.S. authorities as “Islamic extremists” before he was sent to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured.
Cavalluzzo also worked on the Walkerton inquiry, which concluded that the most serious case of water contamination in Canadian history could have been prevented.
Party status participants
Expect to hear from these parties a lot when the commission picks up speed in March. Those with standing during the commission’s factual phase have the right to propose and question witnesses on certain matters and will be receiving evidence in advance.
Government of Canada
This was a given — it’s written into the commissioner’s mandate that the government of Canada must have an opportunity to fully participate in the inquiry. As Hogue notes, the government of Canada is “a primary source for information” and will be directly affected by the commission’s findings and recommendations.
Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections
The Commissioner of Canada Elections is the watchdog that enforces Canada’s federal election laws. Commissioner Caroline Simard has said she is reviewing serious complaints about meddling in the past elections.
The independent MP denies media reports accusing him of participating in Chinese interference efforts in the past two elections. In his application to the commission, the former Liberal said those media reports have made him the face of Chinese foreign interference.
Former special rapporteur David Johnston found there were “irregularities” observed in Dong’s nomination for the federal Liberals in 2019 but also wrote that he did not find evidence that Dong was aware of those irregularities.
In granting his application, Hogue said Dong has an “obvious reputational interest” and can provide first-hand information.
The former Ontario cabinet minister, now deputy mayor of Markham, has long faced accusations that he’s close with the People’s Republic of China. As Hogue notes, some media outlets have reported that certain Chinese Canadian politicians, including Chan, may have engaged in improper activities in connection with the 2019 and 2021 elections. Chan has launched a legal action saying the leaks have publicly humiliated him because of a “stereotypical typecasting of immigrants born in China as being somehow untrustworthy.”
Human Rights Coalition
The coalition is made up of several groups: the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, the Falun Gong Human Rights Group, Canada-Hong Kong Link, Democratic Spaces, Hidmonna – Eritrean Canadian Human Rights Group of Manitoba, Security and Justice for Tigrayans Canada, and the Alliance of Genocide Victim Communities. Hogue ruled they have “substantial and direct interest in the subject.”
Their participation is on thin ice, however. Some in the coalition have threatened to boycott the commission over the inclusion of Dong, Chan and Sen. Yuen Pau Woo; they argue the three men have “possible links and support for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).”
The Conservatives’ foreign affairs critic has been vocal about his first-hand experience as the target of an alleged political campaign by China.
Earlier this year, Chong said he had learned from the Globe and Mail that the Chinese government had targeted him and his relatives in Hong Kong in the lead-up to the 2021 election in response to his stance against Canada’s use of Huawei technology and Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs.
He also has been the target of an organized smear campaign on social media that Global Affairs Canada says is likely backed by China.
NDP MP Jenny Kwan has said publicly that CSIS told her she has been a target of foreign interference by the Government of China, including during the 2021 federal election. She also told the commission that as the representative of a riding with a large Chinese-Canadian population, the threat of foreign interference has limited her ability to access her constituents.
Ukrainian Canadian Congress
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress is the umbrella organization for national, provincial and local Ukrainian Canadian organizations, dating back to the 1940s. The congress says the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada has been a target of Russian interference activities, including both disinformation operations and acts of violence. In its application for standing, which was approved by Hogue, the congress said it also plans to discuss “the lack of adequate response by the government of Canada to Russian activities carried out in Canada, including by Russian diplomats.”
Russian Canadian Democratic Alliance
The alliance was founded by political activists of Russian heritage in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine. It applied for standing by arguing it has an interest in Canada’s ability to protect the Russian diaspora against Russian government intimidation and interference.
Hogue said the alliance’s community perspective will inform her work as she investigates claims that Russia also meddled in Canada’s affairs.
Interveners are the people or groups that Hogue has decided have a general interest in the issues, but not to the same degree as those with standing. Interveners have the right to make written submissions but, for the most part, they can’t cross-examine witnesses or get an advance view of the evidence. The commissioner suggested she could make exceptions, however.
Conservative Party of Canada
The Conservatives argued for full standing, arguing that its candidates were among those targeted the most by the Chinese government in the past two elections. In a statement, the Conservative Party called Hogue’s decision to withhold full standing “deeply concerning” and said it “undermines the credibility of the entire process.”
New Democratic Party
The NDP called for full party standing, arguing it has a direct and substantial interest in the conduct of federal elections. As she did with the Conservatives, Hogue granted the NDP intervener status.
“I reiterate what I have said about the proper role of a political party in a commission of inquiry and caution the NDP that I will not permit the inquiry to become a platform for partisan debate,” she wrote.
Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole stated publicly that officials from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service told him last spring that Beijing had targeted him for years as part of a “sophisticated misinformation and voter suppression campaign.” O’Toole, who has since left politics, told the commission he has several recommendations for better protecting federal democratic processes from foreign interference. Hogue granted him intervener status in the factual phase of the inquiry, writing that — unlike the cases of Dong and Chan — it’s not alleged he was compromised as a result of foreign interference.
Sen. Yuen Pau Woo
Hogue granted Independent Senator Yuen Pau Woo intervener status as someone who has the “perspective of a political figure working to address issues of foreign interference while advocating for a community that risks being stigmatized or negatively impacted by counter-interference measures, whether proposed or put in place.”
His participation has stirred some controversy. Woo has been called a “mouthpiece” for China after he said Canada should avoid criticizing China over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims because of its mistreatment of Indigenous peoples. Woo has spoken out against stigmatization and anti-Asian racism.
The Churchill Society for the Advancement of Parliamentary Democracy describes itself as a non-partisan, charitable organization that facilitates discussion and debate about Canada’s parliamentary democracy. In its application, it said it wants to comment on the federal government’s ability to effectively counter misinformation and disinformation and make recommendations.
The Pillar Society
The organization is made up of former members of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP’s security service. The group says it has knowledge of how intelligence is collected and disseminated.
Democracy Watch says it’s devoted to government accountability, democratic reform and citizen participation in public affairs. Hogue said the group can make submissions on recommendations.
Chinese Canadian Concern Group on the Chinese Communist Party’s Human Rights Violations
The group says it’s made up of media, professionals, activist and religious leaders in the Chinese Canadian community concerned about human rights violations by the Chinese Communist Party, with a particular connection to the Vancouver area.
Two other groups have restricted standing.
The Media Coalition
The coalition is made up of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Société Radio-Canada; Toronto Star Newspapers Limited; La Presse Inc.; CTV, a division of Bell Media Inc.; Global News, a division of Corus Television Limited Partnership; MédiaQMI Inc.; and Groupe TVA Inc.
The coalition has standing during the first week of the hearing as the commission sorts through how to deal with the top-secret documents and confidential information.
The Centre for Free Expression
The Centre for Free Expression is described as a non-partisan research, public education and advocacy centre based out of Toronto Metropolitan University. It focuses on free expression and the public’s right to seek, receive and share information and whistleblower protections.
It too has standing, but it’s restricted to the first week of hearings on access to national security information.
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