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'Stupid' or 'unethical': Green leader suggests MPs should have asked more questions

OTTAWA — Current members of Parliament identified in a secret report on foreign interference should have asked more questions when being approached by outsiders, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said Monday.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May listens to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill, Monday, June 17, 2024 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — Current members of Parliament identified in a secret report on foreign interference should have asked more questions when being approached by outsiders, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said Monday.

However, she said their decisions amount to being stupid, not treasonous.

"Dumb, unethical, foolish, you can use in a number of terms for allowing someone to show up and help you win your nomination," May said at a press conference on Parliament Hill.

"If you weren't asking questions, you kind of ought to have thought: 'Do I want to accept help from somebody?'"

May made the remarks during the second lengthy press conference she has held since reading the report produced by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.

The committee launched a study in March 2023 at the request of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, following months of media headlines about the Chinese government in particular attempting to influence the results of the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

India has also been identified as a main culprit in foreign interference in Canada, along with Russia and Iran.

The committee, known as NSICOP, delivered its findings to Trudeau in March. The report is based on thousands of pages of security and intelligence documents including classified assessments and briefings intended for senior bureaucrats or cabinet ministers, as well as specific reporting from security and intelligence organizations including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

A heavily redacted version of the report was released publicly on June 3, making the bombshell revelation that there are MPs who began "wittingly assisting foreign state actors soon after their election."

The MPs were not named. The only description of their actions in the public report said there were examples of MPs "who worked to influence their colleagues on India’s behalf and proactively provided confidential information to Indian officials."

The report mentions a single case of a former MP "maintaining a relationship with a foreign intelligence officer" but doesn't identify the country. CSIS said that MP tried to arrange a meeting in a foreign country with a senior intelligence official there, and provided that officer with confidential information.

Trudeau said on the weekend he thinks some of the conclusions in the report are wrong, and the government has said that intelligence is not necessarily evidence and can be misinterpreted if not viewed as part of a more complete picture.

The NSICOP report raised serious questions about whether there were current MPs in the House of Commons who had co-operated with foreign governments.

May, who has a top-secret security clearance, read the unredacted version in a private room over three hours last week, and said following that session she felt relieved because there was not a list of current MPs who had knowingly betrayed their country. She did say some MPs may be "compromised" because they were "beneficiaries of foreign governments interfering in nomination contests."

On Monday, May reiterated that she did not think any sitting MP has betrayed Canada, though they should have used better judgment.

"I trust my colleagues in Parliament, some of whom should have shown more sense than to accept (help from foreign actors)," she said. "But did they know in advance? We don't know.

"What did they know when they started seeing busloads of people show up at a nomination meeting? That's a separate question. Did they deliver a quid pro quo to a foreign government to get those busloads of people? Not from anything I've had access to reading."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, however, said last week he was more alarmed than ever after reading the unredacted report. Singh did not suggest any sitting MPs were of concern to him either.

He had previously said he would remove from his caucus any NDP MPs identified for knowingly participating in foreign interference. After reading the report Singh said he would not be taking such action.

Trudeau was asked about Singh’s comments in a CBC interview Monday. After a pause, he responded: "I hadn’t known that Jagmeet said that."

"I would be wary of any party leader drawing any sort of conclusion like that," Trudeau said.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has refused to get the required security clearance to read the report. Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet is in the process of getting clearance.

Bloc MP Alain Therrien accused May and Singh of being too chatty about the report, and raising the risk of undermining the findings of the public inquiry into foreign interference.

That inquiry got its mandate last fall after opposition parties forced the Liberals to call it. It has already held hearings and produced an interim report, with the final version due at the end of this year.

A motion to have commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue look into the latest revelations from the NSICOP report passed last week with support of all parties except the two Green MPs. On Monday, the commission accepted that request and said it plans to try and include its assessment and provide the final report by the end of the year as promised.

The statement from the inquiry indicated the commission has access to the same documents that NSICOP members saw, but does not indicate whether any of those documents formed part of the commission's work so far.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2024.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press