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A 'cloud of suspicion' hangs over Parliament — and no one knows what to do about it

A 'cloud of suspicion' hangs over Parliament — and no one knows what to do about it
A 'cloud of suspicion' hangs over Parliament — and no one knows what to do about it

اخبار العرب-كندا 24: الأربعاء 12 يونيو 2024 06:35 مساءً

There is a "cloud of suspicion" hanging over the House of Commons, Conservative MP Gerard Deltell said on Monday.

On this meteorological metaphor (if on nothing else), there is widespread agreement.

"A dark cloud hangs over all 338 members," Liberal MP Ken McDonald said.

"It is true that since the report landed with the force of a bomb last week, it has let a cloud of suspicion hang over this entire place," NDP MP Alistair MacGregor said.

"It puts us under a cloud of suspicion, a permanent cloud," Bloc Québécois MP Yves Perron suggested.

If a cloud now hangs over Parliament, it was created by parliamentarians who allegedly collaborated, deliberately or otherwise, with hostile foreign states — or at least by the intelligence sources that relayed those allegations to Canada's national security agencies.

That cloud was then dangled over Parliament Hill last week by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) when its members chose to float those allegations without naming the individuals in question.

NSICOP suggested that MPs or senators have acted "contrary to the oaths and affirmations Parliamentarians take to conduct themselves in the best interest of Canada." But the committee did not say how Parliament should proceed from there — what should be done now that unnamed members have been broadly accused of serious wrongdoing.

Left to their own devices, parliamentarians have been unable to arrive at a resolution. And in lieu of a clear path forward, the House of Commons has decided to ask for more help — this time from Justice Marie-Josée Hogue's commission on foreign interference.

It remains to be seen if Hogue can bring more clarity to a situation that is crying out for it.

It is the Official Opposition's view that the government simply needs to "name names."

"I would remind the minister and the government that what is being asked of the government is not to make known to the public sensitive intelligence, or sources and methods," Conservative MP Michael Cooper told the House on Monday. "What is simply being asked of the Liberals, the government, is to provide the names of the compromised MPs and senators — just the names, please."

But just releasing the names wouldn't necessarily be so simple. Releasing names without any evidence or supporting information could be unfair to the named MPs or senators. Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc also told a House committee last week that, in some cases, allegations against parliamentarians are tied to "uncorroborated or unverified" intelligence information.

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith has argued that demanding names without also demanding "due process" is "irresponsible." For the sake of avoiding a witch hunt, some kind of due process would seem sensible.

As Conservative MP Michael Chong reminded MPs on Monday, Parliament is empowered to govern its own membership and has the power to expel members. The last time Parliament exercised that power was in the case of an MP — Fred Rose — who was found to have spied for the Soviet Union. But in Rose's case, the House of Commons only voted to declare his seat vacant in 1947 after he had been convicted in court of violating the Official Secrets Act.

In this case, even NSICOP has acknowledged that criminal charges against the parliamentarians in question are unlikely.

Philippe Lagasse and Stephanie Carvin, two academics who have studied national security, have argued that the best — and perhaps only — path forward is for party leaders to take responsibility for their own caucuses.

In this scenario, each party leader would be given the security clearance necessary to view the intelligence that underpins NSICOP's report. The leaders could then take action to sideline or punish MPs whose activities are cause for concern — or even ban those MPs from running under their party banner again.

Erskine-Smith has argued that approach would raise questions of procedural fairness. On the other hand, as Lagasse and Carvin note, MPs and senators have been expelled from caucus for "far less."

  • Just Asking wants to know: What questions do you have about foreign interference in Canadian politics? How concerned are you about the latest report from Canada's national-security watchdog? Fill out the details on this form and send us your questions ahead of our show on June 15.

But what Lagasse and Carvin propose is premised on the assumption that all party leaders would be willing to cooperate and act.

It's not clear yet whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — who has ready access to classified information — has taken any action against Liberal MPs in response to the allegations contained in the NSICOP report. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, meanwhile, is refusing to go through the security clearance process that the government has offered to him so that he can view an unredacted version of the NSICOP report.

Conservatives seem to view the offer as some kind of trap that would prevent Poilievre from questioning or challenging the government on the issue of foreign interference. It's not clear Poilievre wouldn't still be able to use parliamentary privilege to say whatever he wanted inside the House of Commons with impunity.

But regardless, his refusal to receive a security clearance could be preventing him from taking any of the actions that Lagasse and Carvin suggest.

The other three opposition leaders — the NDP's Jagmeet Singh, Green Leader Elizabeth May and Yves-François Blanchet of the Bloc Québécois — have agreed to view the unredacted NSICOP report. Singh will apparently have his chance on Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday after being the first opposition leader to see the unredacted report, May said she came away feeling less suspicious of her colleagues.

She later told the CBC's Power & Politics that the unredacted report did not list the names of currently serving Parliamentarians accused of wittingly conspiring with foreign states — which suggests even NSICOP may not be able to provide much clarity.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May speaks while referencing a copy of a public security report during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, June 11, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

On Tuesday afternoon, the House voted 320-2 to effectively punt the matter to Justice Hogue (May and fellow Green MP Mike Morrice voted against). Appealing to an independent adjudicator makes some sense, but it might also be months before we know whether Hogue is able to meaningfully clear the air.

Kent Roach, a law professor at the University of Toronto, points out that section 13 of the Inquiries Act states that "no report shall be made against any person until reasonable notice has been given to the person of the charge of misconduct alleged against him and the person has been allowed full opportunity to be heard in person or by counsel." That suggests the foreign interference commission could offer due process and then name names.

But it's also conceivable that national security concerns could still stand in the way of releasing those names publicly. It also stands to reason that Hogue might find she is not able to definitively rule on any parliamentarian's guilt or innocence.

Either way, the cloud over Parliament is going to hang there for a while yet. And one way or another, parliamentarians will end up having to do something about it themselves.

Just Asking wants to know: What questions do you have about foreign interference in Canadian politics? How concerned are you about the latest report from the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians? Fill out the details on this form and send us your questions ahead of their show on June 15.

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