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Interference inquiry must walk very fine line on secrecy, transparency: commissioner

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Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue cautioned, however, that the inquiry must walk a very fine line in balancing confidentiality and the desire for transparency.

Hogue’s remarks came as the commission began two weeks of hearings into foreign meddling allegations and how the federal government responded to them. 

The hearings will focus on possible interference by China, India, Russia and others in the last two general elections. 

The inquiry expects to hear from dozens of people, including diaspora community members, political party representatives and federal election officials.

The inquiry held an initial set of hearings in late January and early February to solicit ideas on how to publicly disclose as much information as possible.

Even so, Hogue said recently she had agreed to a federal request to present some evidence in the absence of other participants and the public.

In her remarks Wednesday, Hogue stressed that confidentiality related to national security issues has in no way impaired her ability to search for the truth.

The commission has had access to a large number of classified documents in their entirety, meaning they were not redacted to protect national security, Hogue said.

“In fact, confidentiality imperatives have so far not prevented us from doing the work we have been tasked to do,” she said.

“But they do pose real difficulties as I endeavour to keep the process transparent and open. The commission must walk a very fine line in its work.”

People often react with suspicion when secrecy shields information held by the government, Hogue said in French. “Yet it is undeniable that there is a strong public interest in maintaining at least some forms of government secrecy.”

The initial hearings showed that withholding certain types of information may be essential for Canada to conduct activities vital to national security and international commitments, Hogue added.

The preliminary hearings also revealed this is particularly true in the area of foreign interference, since “sophisticated foreign state actors” may be engaged in collecting information about Canada and its citizens, she said.

“In this context, information that could reveal the sources of intelligence, methods of collection or the targets of investigations is particularly sensitive,” Hogue said.

“The disclosure of such information to hostile actors could cause serious harm, both to Canadian citizens and to Canada as a whole.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2024.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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