Commissioner in foreign interference inquiry may not be up to the job

Hogue is playing strange political games that question her judgment

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It’s hard to have faith in the public inquiry into foreign election interference when the judge in charge is acting the way she is.

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Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue has denied the Conservative Party full standing at the inquiry twice now and warned them against complaining too much.

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The party has intervenor status for the factual phase of the inquiry. That grants the party some status, including the ability to present evidence and suggest witnesses, but the Conservatives won’t be allowed to cross-examine witnesses or gain full access to documents and materials provided to the commission.

Hogue made her initial decision in early December and stood by it when she released her response to an appeal by the Conservatives just days before Christmas.

There are so many problems with this, including others being granted full standing and Hogue showing that she has little understanding of politics, a key issue she will need to deal with. One of the complaints from the Conservatives is that while they did not get full standing, the federal government, led by Justin Trudeau, did.

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In her latest decision, Hogue tries to make it sound like there is a clear and pure distinction between the government and the Liberal Party. She naively wrote that “there is a distinction between the government of the day and the political party that controls the House of Commons.”

That’s a sweet thought but let’s be clear, the governing party controls the government and will look after their best interests. This has been one of the main problems with previous attempts to use parliamentary tools to examine foreign interference — the governing party, using the tools only available to government, either kept certain information from the other parties or shut down committees and other work to keep secrets hidden.

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Now we have a commissioner who is making decisions to block information from the Conservative Party, the party targeted by agents of China for defeat in the last two elections.

Hogue also denied full standing to former Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole while granting full standing to former Liberal MP Han Dong and former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister Michael Chan, and intervenor status for Senator Yuen Pau Woo. Dong, Chan and Woo have all been accused of either being involved in or benefiting from election interference or pushing a pro-Beijing agenda in Canada.

A group of human rights activists challenged the standing of the three men, arguing that allowing them to cross-examine witnesses and giving them full access to all information — something denied to the official opposition — would make it more difficult for many Chinese-Canadians to speak freely.

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“It is precisely because there are allegations made against Mr. Chan and Mr. Dong that it is paramount that they be afforded the full range of participatory rights and protections, including the ability to cross-examine other witnesses when affected by their evidence,” Hogue wrote in rejecting calls to revoke their status.

If we are to accept Hogue’s logic on why Chan and Dong have full status, wouldn’t that same logic apply to the Conservative Party?

It should if Hogue is being consistent, but she is not.

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She did grant Conservative MP Michael Chong full status, only fitting given that he personally was targeted, but the Conservative Party should have full status as well. Instead, Hogue not only rejected that idea, she preemptively lectured the Conservative Party and issued them a warning.

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“I am therefore advising the CPC, and indeed all participants, that I will not allow this commission to become a partisan debate between opposing political factions,” Hogue wrote.

“All must participate in this inquiry with the sole purpose of assisting the commission and not for any partisan purpose. 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.”

So far, the only person playing political games with this inquiry is Commissioner Hogue, who may be showing us she’s not up to the job at hand before the public phase of the inquiry has even started.

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