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Bloc joins Conservatives in rejecting Johnston report briefing on election meddling

The former governor general said in the report that the intelligence he reviewed must be kept secret

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet is joining Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre in refusing to take a look at secret information that led a watchdog to recommend against a public inquiry into allegations of foreign interference.

Blanchet told reporters in Ottawathat the briefing is “a dumb trap,” saying it is a way for the Liberal government to smooth the issue over by bringing opposition leaders into the loop — then restricting what they can say about what they learned.

“It is for those who are not very careful,” he said Wednesday.

READ MORE: Johnston advises against inquiry, but aims to hold hearings on foreign interference

Special rapporteur David Johnston recommended the government provide the necessary security clearances for other leaders to have a full look at his first report released Tuesday, including a confidential annex of materials he used to arrive at his conclusions.

The former governor general said in the report that the intelligence he reviewed must be kept secret, and while he understands opposition leaders do not want to be constrained by security laws, the issue is too important for potential future leaders of the country to intentionally remain ignorant.

Johnston has acknowledged the difficulty of not being able to divulge the information he reviewed publicly.

But he said such material must be kept secret, and as such, a formal inquiry would have to be held largely behind closed doors. Instead, Johnston promised to hold his own public hearings to discuss the issue of foreign interference — but not the specifics of allegations.

Poilievre has said he has no intention of taking part in additional briefings, saying he does not want to be muzzled.

He instead vowed to call a public inquiry if Conservatives form the next government, and appoint a judge with subpoena powers to probe the matter.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Opposition leaders should review the substance of Johnston’s report and took particular aim at Poilievre for refusing to participate in the process.

“Pierre Poilievre is choosing to sit behind a veil of ignorance,” Trudeau told reporters, speaking at an event in Winnipeg.

“He doesn’t want the facts to get in the way of a good political argument or a personal attack,” he said. “Is that a serious leader?”

Even before Johnston released his report, Poilievre dissed his appointment as a “fake job,” pointing out that the prime minister had called Johnston a “family friend” and that he was involved in the foundation bearing Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s name.

Johnston said when he released his report that he found questions about his impartiality “troubling” and defended his work.

Poilievre told reporters in Toronto that a judge with experience handling national security cases should be the one to decide what information needs to remain secret and what could be made public if an inquiry were called.

“Justin Trudeau has something to hide,” he said Wednesday.

Despite rejecting his own chance to take a closer look at the report, he said he will not stand in the way of review by Conservative MPs who sit on the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.

Two Conservatives sit on the committee alongside colleagues of other political stripes, and Johnston has said they will be provided with the additional information.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has also said he believes a public inquiry is needed, but told reporters Tuesday that he intends to obtain the necessary security clearances to see Johnston’s full report.

The New Democrat who sits on the House of Commons procedure committee signed a letter along with Conservative and Bloc MPs stating they will seek Johnston’s testimony about his decision not to recommend a public inquiry.

The letter, shared by Conservative MP Michael Cooper on social media Wednesday, called Johnston’s decision “a slap in the face to diaspora groups who are subject to abuse and intimidation by hostile foreign governments.”

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

READ MORE: Five things we learned in David Johnston’s first report on foreign interference

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