A Report Claims Certain Parliamentarians Colluded With Foreign States — Could They Be Charged? | CBC News

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Some parliamentarians were accused this week of conspiring with foreign governments, but their exact numbers and their identities remain a mystery to the public — and to many of their colleagues.

Stunning allegations triggered outrage and distrust on Parliament Hill — but what can be done?

Brennan MacDonald · CBC News

· Posted: Jun 08, 2024 4:00 AM EDT | Last Updated: June 8

Liberal member of Parliament David McGuinty, Chair of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, responds to questions from reporters before heading into a meeting of the Liberal Caucus in Ottawa, on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)Some parliamentarians were accused this week of conspiring with foreign governments, but their exact numbers and their identities remain a mystery to the public — and to many of their colleagues.

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) — a group of MPs and senators who hold top secret security clearances and are permanently bound to secrecy under the Security of Information Act — released a heavily redacted report on foreign political interference Monday.

In it, NSICOP alleged that some MPs and senators are “wittingly” helping foreign governments like China and India meddle in Canadian politics.

The allegation sparked outrage and expressions of distrust on Parliament Hill, and the Conservatives called on the Liberal government to reveal the identities of the parliamentarians under suspicion.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc has been refusing to do so, saying it would be inappropriate to release the names and citing his obligations under the Security of Information Act.

NSICOP chair David McGuinty said the committee’s “hands are tied” and it can’t divulge the identities of the parliamentarians cited in the report. He said it’s now up to the RCMP to decide what happens next.

The RCMP says it won’t comment on whether there is an active criminal investigation into any parliamentarian. The police service did confirm there are active investigations into a broad range of foreign interference efforts in Canada, “including matters which intersect with democratic institutions.”

What are the allegations?The report says the committee members have reviewed intelligence indicating that certain parliamentarians are or have been “‘semi-witting or witting’ participants in the efforts of foreign states to interfere in Canadian politics.” The report says those parliamentarians’ alleged actions include:

Communicating frequently with foreign missions before or during political campaigns to obtain support from community groups or businesses which the diplomatic missions promise to quietly mobilize in a candidate’s favour. Accepting knowingly or through willful blindness funds or benefits from foreign missions or their proxies which have been layered or otherwise disguised to conceal their source. Providing foreign diplomatic officials with privileged information on the work or opinions of fellow parliamentarians, knowing that such information will be used by those officials to inappropriately pressure parliamentarians to change their positions. Responding to requests or direction from foreign officials to improperly influence parliamentary colleagues or parliamentary business to the advantage of a foreign state. Providing information learned in confidence from the government to a known intelligence officer of a foreign state. The report names China and India as two of the countries allegedly conspiring with Canadian parliamentarians.

Is the alleged behaviour illegal?National security and intelligence expert Wesley Wark said he was nauseated by the alleged actions detailed in the report — actions he said “absolutely” rise to the level of treason in some instances.

“The treason offences in the Criminal Code, which have been around for a long time, involve for example the unlawful communication of information to a foreign state in peacetime,” Wark told CBC’s Power & Politics. “You have a piece of the Criminal Code that is there, on the shelf, ready to be used.”

But while the NSICOP report itself says some of the activity detailed may be illegal, it also argues criminal charges are unlikely “owing to Canada’s failure to address the long-standing issue of protecting classified information and methods in judicial processes.”

Parliamentarians conspiring with foreign governments is ‘treason’: security expert Senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation Wesley Wark says the idea of parliamentarians conspiring with foreign governments is ‘nausea-inducing’ and would amount to ‘treason.’

In other words, Canada’s security services struggle to turn intelligence into evidence.

It’s a “huge issue,” said Michelle Tessier, who served as deputy director of operations at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) from 2018 to 2023.

“Other countries are able to allow the protection of intelligence — to allow, for example, a judge to see that intelligence and be able to question it and make that decision based on classified intelligence,” Tessier told Power & Politics. “In Canada, in the criminal justice system, it’s really full disclosure.

“The system is very cumbersome. There is a lot of intelligence that cannot be shared and frankly, in my opinion, its one of the most important things that should be looked at — the ability to use that information in the court of law while protecting national security interests.”

Should the accused parliamentarians be unmasked?The Conservatives are demanding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly reveal the names of the implicated parliamentarians.

“Criminal prosecution is not the only tool available to the government to counter foreign interference threats against Parliament,” Michael Chong, Conservative foreign affairs critic, said this week on Power & Politics. “Sunlight and transparency is another tool that our security agencies have long said the government should be using.”

The Liberal government maintains it would be inappropriate to reveal the names, citing the sensitive nature of the intelligence.

Should names of MPs accused of working on behalf of foreign governments be released?A new national security report alleges some members of Parliament have conspired with foreign actors, but should their names be released? Parliamentary Secretary to the deputy prime minister Ryan Turnbull, Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong and NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson join Power & Politics to discuss.

“My colleague knows full well that no responsible government would disclose names involved in specific intelligence situations,” LeBlanc said in response to Chong’s demand in the House that the prime minister name the parliamentarians.

“It is not entirely accurate of him to claim that a responsible government, one that focuses on the security of Canada and our democratic institutions, would do such a thing.”

Wark said he thinks simply naming the parliamentarians is a bad idea.

“We have to be very careful about naming and shaming in the public square, which is something that probably authoritarian states who delight in foreign interference would be very pleased by — a way to kind of upend democracy,” he said.

“The real route forward is prosecutions.”

Former CSIS director Richard Fadden said he thinks criminal prosecution is unlikely but he believes the House and the Senate should take it upon themselves to investigate the allegations further.

“There is a constitutional convention that says both houses of Parliament are the sole master of their procedures and the treatment of their members,” said Fadden.

“I would refer it to the committee on ethics, to the board of internal economy, to the party leaderships, to somebody within the House to take a decision. Once that decision is taken — that there has been a serious violation of MPs oaths and of their responsibility to Canada — then I think we should come to the issue of whether or not … their identity should be made public.”

Unnamed parliamentarians conspired with foreign governments, report allegesThe National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians alleged in a report published Monday that some unnamed parliamentarians conspired with foreign governments and consciously shared sensitive information with their agents. Power & Politics speaks to two former CSIS directors — Richard Fadden and Ward Elcock — about the stunning allegations.

The government is offering to brief opposition party leaders who obtain the necessary security clearances on the classified intelligence.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party co-leader Elizabeth May have both said they will take the government up on this offer.

Bloc Québécois Yves-François Blanchet said he is considering the offer. 

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has, to date, refused classified briefings on foreign interference, claiming it would restrict his ability to speak publicly on the issue.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brennan MacDonald is a producer for CBC’s national television program Power & Politics and a writer for CBC’s Parliament Hill bureau.

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