The head of an inquiry into foreign interference in Canadian affairs says the commission’s job is to uncover the truth, whatever it may be.
In opening remarks Monday, commissioner Marie-Josee Hogue said the task requires the inquiry team to investigate, analyze and reflect as thoroughly as possible.
“My team and I will make every effort to get to the bottom of things and understand what the country has faced, and what it may still be facing, in terms of foreign interference.”
The commission’s hearings are taking place at the Library and Archives Canada building in Ottawa, not far from Parliament Hill.
The inquiry’s first five days of public hearings are focused on the preliminary point of how to handle the shroud of official secrecy around the controversial issue of foreign meddling.
The goal is to help identify ways to make information public, even though much of it comes from classified documents and sources.
The discussions on national security and confidentiality of information will help set the stage for the next public hearings, likely to take place at the end of March.
The March hearings are intended to delve into allegations of foreign interference by China, India, Russia and others in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, with a report on these matters due May 3.
The inquiry will then turn to policy issues, looking at the ability of the government to detect, deter and counter foreign interference targeting Canada’s democratic processes.
A final report is due by the end of the year.
Hogue, a Quebec Court of Appeal judge, told the crowded hearing Monday she and the commission counsel are neutral and impartial.
“We represent the public interest and our goal is to uncover the truth, whatever it may be,” she said.
“Foreign interference in our democratic institutions is a very serious issue. It requires us to investigate, analyze and reflect as thoroughly as possible, in order to ultimately identify the best ways to counter it or, if it’s not possible to prevent it entirely, to limit its effects.”
Hogue said that since it will be up to her to draw conclusions from the evidence presented, “I want to stress that I have not yet seen that evidence.”
Hogue said she had discussed relevant topics with commission counsel and the way in which the hearings should be conducted.
“But I have chosen to participate neither in the meetings with potential witnesses, nor in the review of the documents obtained,” she added. “I have chosen this approach to ensure that I have no preconceived ideas, and I will adhere to it throughout the commission’s work.”
The inquiry says the first order of business is identifying the “challenges, limitations and potential adverse impacts” of disclosing classified national security information and intelligence to the public.
Participants will also have a chance to suggest ideas on ensuring transparency, given the obstacles.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2024.