Within a day of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ditch David Johnston as special rapporteur investigating foreign interference by communist China, the former governor general is snubbing an invite to appear before a House of Commons committee to talk about his work on the Trudeau Foundation.
“It’s essential that we do hear from him,” said Conservative MP Michael Barrett, in trying to make his case by issuing a formal summons compelling Johnston to appear within the next seven days.
“We want to take a closer look at the conclusions that he has, take a look under the hood.”
Johnston has been criticized in his role as special rapporteur, given his past relationship with the Trudeau family and membership in the Trudeau Foundation. When tabling his report. Johnston dismissed the criticisms by saying he has had no interactions with Trudeau “of a friendly kind” since Trudeau became a Liberal MP.
Johnston resigned his membership with the foundation after his appointment as rapporteur.
Opposition MPs teamed up to force a meeting of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) on Thursday — despite it being a break week for the Commons — where MPs debated a Conservative-sponsored proposal to haul Johnston before the panel of MPs before June 7 to explain, among other things, his affiliation with the foundation.
However, the Liberals were quick to accuse the opposition parties of further politicizing the issue of foreign interference. However, the committee had already decided two months ago, when Johnston was appointed to the role that he should appear.
The other witnesses who have refused to testify before the committee include Edward Johnson, chair of the Trudeau Foundation, and Mel Cappe, a foundation mentor. “It has been frustrating. We have no one willing to appear,” said committee chair, Conservative MP John Williamson.
The public accounts committee has sought records regarding the foundation’s 2016 misrepresentation of a $140,000 donation from communist Beijing as a gift from a Canadian donor. The donation came from an offshore company affiliated with the China Cultural Industry Association, a state-backed entity. The foundation’s CEO and most of the board resigned on April 10 following an internal conflict on how to deal with the donation.
“We have a job to do to try to get to the bottom of what is happening at the Trudeau Foundation and we’re not getting documents and we’re not getting witnesses,” said Conservative MP Garnett Genuis. “That is repeated stonewalling enabled, it seems, by the government but also from people involved.”
Genuis served notice of a motion “that the committee authorize the Chair to summon witnesses,” because he said Parliament must determine if the Trudeau Foundation was targeted by Chinese agents. Genuis said the Trudeau Foundation has an “odd” governance structure, as it is a charity that has also accepted a $125 million endowment from the federal government.
On May 29, the public accounts committee adjourned debate on the motion to instruct Johnston to testify or face a formal summons. Liberal MPs expressed alarm, with MP Brenda Shanahan calling it a “drastic step” and MP Peter Fragiskatos saying it was a “giant leap in the wrong direction.”
While a parliamentary summons has the weight of a court order, it is rarely enforced.
The last time Parliament jailed an uncooperative witness was in 1913 when a Montréal contractor was held for three months at Ottawa’s Carleton County Jail for refusing to take questions on payments of kickbacks to federal officials.