A special investigator named by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to probe alleged election interference by China on Friday said he would quit, citing widespread opposition to his appointment and work. David Johnston, 81, said he would leave his post by the end of June, or as soon as he has delivered a brief final report. Last month he said Trudeau’s government had not ignored evidence of Chinese meddling and recommended against an official public inquest.
Johnston was appointed in March after media reports based on leaked intelligence said that Beijing had sought to influence elections and policy. China has denied any interference. Last month the House of Commons, the lower chamber of parliament, approved a non-binding motion to demand Johnston’s resignation. Some critics said he had ignored a real issue while others, noting his long friendship with Trudeau, said the appointment had been a mistake.
“My objective was to help build trust in our democratic institutions. I have concluded that, given the highly partisan atmosphere around my appointment and work, my leadership has had the opposite effect,” Johnston said in a letter to Trudeau. In response, government minister Dominic LeBlanc thanked Johnston and said the attacks on his position and work had been unwarranted and unacceptable.
In a statement, LeBlanc said he would consult experts as to how to continue probing foreign election interference and who would be best placed to lead that work. Following Johnston’s appointment, three opposition legislators said Canada’s spy agency told them they had been the target of Chinese interference. Last month Trudeau’s government expelled a Chinese official after it emerged that he had sought information about the family of one of the legislators.
China-Canada relations turned icy in late 2018 when Canadian police detained a Chinese telecommunications executive. Shortly afterwards, Beijing arrested two Canadians on spying charges. All three were freed in 2021.
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