The federal public inquiry that will be probing foreign interference in Canadian elections and democratic instructions launched the process for interested stakeholders to apply for standing on Friday and revealed that one of the lawyers that led the Emergencies Act inquiry has been named lead counsel.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tapped Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Marie-Josée Hogue to lead the inquiry back in September — similar to the role held by Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC) lead Justice Paul Rouleau in examining the “Freedom Convoy” protests — the lead counsel for the commission will be Shantona Chaudhury.
Chaudhury was one of the POEC’s co-counsels who spent weeks questioning witnesses in open hearings — including Trudeau — and working with others behind closed doors to gather and analyze evidence.
Broadly, commissions of inquiry are a fact-finding process aimed at coming to the truth, and resulting in findings and recommendations.
In this role, Hogue says Chaudhury will lean on her national security law expertise in leading the team hired to conduct the foreign interference probe. Included among this team are senior policy advisor Paul Cavalluzzo, who was lead counsel for the inquiry into the Maher Arar matter, and research counsel Genevieve Carter, who played a similar role during the Charbonneau Commission.
The names of those hired so far to be on this team have been posted online, with the launch of the inquiry’s website on Friday, as well as information about the inquiry’s mandate and public hearings plan.
NEW DETAILS ON PARTICIPATION
Also posted online Friday was a new notice to interested parties and the public who want to participate in the “likely” Ottawa-based hearings, along with accompanying application forms for those who want to be granted standing and receive funding.
The individuals and groups who want to be granted standing have to submit their application forms by 5 p.m. EDT on Nov. 22. In order to qualify, Hogue said these parties “must demonstrate a direct and substantial interest in the subject matter of the inquiry in their application.”
Parties granted standing in the Emergencies Act inquiry included the federal government, the City of Ottawa, the OPP and the convoy organizers. In that instance, political parties were not granted standing. But given the electoral elements of the foreign interference probe, this time could be different.
“All officially recognized political parties have publicly expressed their agreement with the choice of commissioner and the terms of reference that set out her mandate. They have also expressed their intention to collaborate with the commission to help shed light on the issue of foreign interference and its fundamental implications for Canadian democracy,” reads the commission’s notice to interested parties.
The current timeframe for the commissioner to release her decision about who is granted standing and funding is Dec. 4.
Hogue has suggested that parties with a common interest should consider grouping together to submit a single application for standing.
“I am confident that everyone involved will work assiduously and co-operate in good faith,” Hogue said.
OPERATING ON TIGHT TIMELINE
Earlier this month, Hogue offered an initial progress update that outlined how her work will proceed in two key phases, with public hearings featuring “fact witnesses” and experts. The first phase of hearings are set to begin at the end of January 2024, and then “provisionally” the second round would kick off in September 2024.
The first phase will focus on any past potential interference and the impact it may have had on the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. This portion of the probe will include an assessment of the flow of information within the federal government in relation to this alleged meddling, and scrutinize the actions taken in response.
Under this phase, the plan is to require all parties with standing to provide their relevant documents by Dec. 16. During the POEC process, timely production of documents was a persisting issue.
“The commission is committed to holding a public process before the release of its first report. However, as can be seen from this schedule… the timeline for Phase 1 of the commission’s work is very compressed,” reads the application notice. “Parties intending to seek standing should therefore immediately begin gathering and preparing all documents and information relevant.”
The second phase will see the inquiry dig in to “the capacity of federal departments, agencies, institutional structures, and governance processes to permit the Government of Canada to detect and counter such interference.”
As was stated when the commissioner was appointed, the inquiry’s first report is due Feb. 29, 2024 and the final report is due by Dec. 31, 2024.
“The Commission’s mandate, described below, is vast, and the timeframe it has been given to accomplish its work is short,” the notice goes on to state. “Nevertheless, the commission intends to do its utmost to meet its deadlines. Achieving this goal will require cooperation, goodwill, diligence, and flexibility on the part of all involved… including but not limited to government sources.”