OTTAWA – The Conservative party says a decision to deny them full standing at the upcoming foreign interference inquiry undercuts the credibility of the entire process.
Justice Marie-Josée Hogue, who was selected as inquiry commissioner after a lengthy search, ruled on Monday that the Conservatives should only have the lower level of intervener status at the coming inquiry.
Hogue gave some applicants full party standing, allowing them to cross-examine witnesses and see all evidence, and gave other groups intervener status, which only allows them to be present at the public hearings, make legal submissions and see evidence presented in public.
Sebastian Skamski, a spokesperson for Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) Leader Pierre Poilievre, said they are disappointed not to be given the full participation they asked for.
“The decision by Justice Hogue to deny full standing to the Conservative Party in the public inquiry is deeply concerning and undermines the credibility of the entire process,” he said in an email. “Political parties are directly affected by foreign interference in our democracy.”
Hogue gave full standing to the government, the commissioner of elections and several diaspora groups. She also gave full standing to former Liberal MP Han Dong and former Ontario MPP Michael Chan.
Dong stepped down from the Liberal caucus to sit as an Independent MP after reports emerged that he had benefited from Chinese foreign interference in his nomination contest. Dong disputes those allegations and launched a libel suit against Global News, the media outlet who first published them.
Chan, who is now deputy mayor of Markham, Ont., has been accused of involvement in foreign interference directed by Beijing. He has also launched a lawsuit against CSIS and media outlets who reported allegations against him.
Hogue said those two men should have standing because their character and reputation have been directly attacked. She gave standing to the government because it would be responsible for implementing any recommendations she might make about foreign interference.
Hogue is set to hold public hearings early in 2024 that will serve as a fact-finding exercise, designed to determine exactly what happened during the 2021 and 2019 campaigns. She will then hold hearings in the fall on policy issues.
The NDP was also denied full standing and Hogue cautioned both the Conservatives and the NDP against turning the public inquiry into a political debate.
“All must participate in this Inquiry with the sole purpose of assisting the Commission and not for any partisan purpose,” she wrote. “If the CPC proves unable to live up to this expectation, I recall that I retain the authority to revoke a grant of standing and will not hesitate to do so in appropriate circumstances.”
Skamski said the inquiry would not have happened without the Conservatives consistent push for it and the party suffered directly.
“Conservative candidates and MPs have been specifically targeted by Beijing’s efforts to influence our elections and reports from the media have suggested that it was the explicit strategy of the CCP to target the Conservative Party and benefit Liberals.”
He also said Justice Hogue’s comments warning the Conservatives about partisanship suggests bias.
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Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole was also denied full standing at the inquiry. He said he understands the need to give Dong and Chan full standing, but, even though his reputation hasn’t suffered, he and other MPs were directly targeted.
“It doesn’t really seem that at this moment they realized how impacted the targets of interference were and are.”
O’Toole said he understands why people who wanted to be more active would be disappointed by the ruling, but he is not going to prejudge the inquiry.
“I do think there’ll be some people that want to have the ability to cross-examine and be more active, that aren’t getting what they wanted,” he said. “It really depends on how the inquiry operates, and how it runs and I don’t want to seem to have preconceived notions on how that will be.”
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