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Trudeau says it’s his job to question CSIS intelligence, call out ‘contradictions’ | CBC News

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday he feels it’s part of his job to question and call out what he referred to as “contradictions” in intelligence prepared for the federal government.

His comments Thursday followed his closely-watched testimony at the public inquiry into foreign election interference the day before, which is trying to work out what the government knew about claims that China and other countries meddled in the past two federal elections.

During his testimony Wednesday, Trudeau disputed intelligence gathered by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), one of the pillars of Canada’s national security infrastructure.

“You have to take this intelligence, you have to take this information with a certain awareness that it still needs to be confirmed or it might not be 100 per cent accurate,” Trudeau said.

During a media availability Thursday, Trudeau was asked by a reporter whether Canadians should trust CSIS given his remarks. 

The prime minister said he respects the Canadians who work in national security.

“But no government, no leader, should simply be a passive receiver of information and intelligence,” he said. 

“We have a role to play in asking questions, on thinking critically … encouraging further work on questioning sources and pulling out contradictions. That actually is part and parcel of the work that we all need to do to make sure that everything is done to keep Canadians safe.”

Trudeau says he didn’t receive dire CSIS warning in 2023

Trudeau said he listens “very closely, very carefully to everything” CSIS tells him — but the information that reaches his ears has been called into question at the inquiry.

Commissioner Marie-Josée Hogue and members of her team have been poring over a series of documents, including one that showed CSIS believes the Chinese government “clandestinely and deceptively” interfered in both the 2019 and 2021 federal elections. 

The warning was contained in a document prepared for a February 2023 briefing with the Prime Minister’s Office. 

It also said China’s interference was “pragmatic in nature and focused primarily in supporting those viewed to be either ‘pro PRC’ or ‘neutral’ on issues of interest to the PRC government.”

Trudeau said he was not briefed on intelligence regarding the PRC’s alleged preference for a Liberal government ahead of the 2021 election.

Earlier this week, Trudeau’s deputy chief of staff Brian Clow told the inquiry the information in the briefing was not shared with the inner circle.

CSIS director David Vigneault appears as a witness at the Public Inquiry Into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions in Ottawa on Thursday, April 4, 2024. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The CSIS document warns that protecting Canadian democratic institutions against foreign interference “will require a shift in the government’s perspective and a willingness to take decisive action and impose consequences on perpetrators.” It said foreign interference will persist until it “is viewed as an existential threat to Canadian democracy and governments forcefully and actively respond.”

Trudeau also testified Wednesday that he rarely reads intelligence documents and relies on oral briefings, either from his national security and intelligence adviser or from CSIS director David Vigneault.

WATCH | Trudeau is asked about his level of confidence in CSIS intelligence 

Trudeau is asked about his level of confidence in CSIS intelligence

Responding to a question stemming from the inquiry on foreign election interference in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that while he has ‘tremendous confidence’ in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, he feels it’s important to question sources at times. 

“The only way to guarantee, to make sure, that I receive the necessary information is to give me an in-person briefing, or over a secure line if necessary, on any issue or priority issue,” he said.

Trudeau’s main political rival took aim at that statement before a friendly crowd at the annual Canada Strong and Free Network conference in Ottawa on Thursday.

“His defence speaks for itself,” said Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre. “The prime minister is asked why he didn’t do anything about this interference, even though he was warned in briefing notes, [and his defence] is that he doesn’t read briefing notes.

“We often don’t believe the things this guys says, but I think most Canadians would believe that. I think it’s plausible Justin Trudeau doesn’t read things that come before him. In fact, I think it’s likely.”

Vigneault, who testified last week, has been recalled by the inquiry at the request of some of the participants’ lawyers to answer further questions about whether he never relayed that information to the prime minister.

He’ll reappear Friday morning.

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