David Johnston quits special rapporteur role given to him by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

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The Liberal-led circus surrounding allegations of foreign interference took a new turn on Friday when David Johnston, brought on by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March to look into claims of interference by China in the past two federal elections, announced he is quitting his role as special rapporteur.

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Johnston filed a resignation letter to Trudeau on Friday, saying his role had become too controversial and the atmosphere too partisan for him to continue.

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He will step down no later than the end of June.

“When I undertook the task of independent special rapporteur on foreign interference, my objective was to help build trust in our democratic institutions,” the former governor general wrote. “I have concluded that, given the highly partisan atmosphere around my appointment and work, my leadership has had the opposite effect.”

In his resignation letter to the prime minister, the former governor general said a “deep and comprehensive review of foreign interference, its effects, and how to prevent it, should be an urgent priority for your Government and our Parliament.”

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David Johnston's resignation letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
David Johnston’s resignation letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. GOVERNMENT OF CANADA

The appointment of Johnston, who says he will release a brief final report, has been contentious from the word go.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre accused Johnston of being too close to Trudeau’s family.

Meanwhile, all opposition parties in the House of Commons have pushed for the government to call a public inquiry into foreign interference but Johnston recently released a report recommending against that.

Johnston’s apparent conflict of interest was at the forefront heading into Commons committee hearings earlier this week. Between 2010 and 2017, Trudeau and Johnston made statements in public or in interviews about being good friends, family friends, cottage neighbours, that their families often skied together and that the families became close again after Trudeau was elected and moved onto the grounds of Rideau Hall.

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In his letter, Johnston encourages Trudeau to appoint a “respected person, with national security experience” to finish the work he started. He also suggests Trudeau consult with opposition parties on who that should be.

Johnston has denied their close relationship, calling it a “so-called friendship.”

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On Thursday, Johnston ended ties with Toronto-based crisis communications firm Navigator.

His move to hire Nagivator raised questions about what the firm’s services might ultimately be costing taxpayers.

Johnston served as Canada’s governor general from 2010 to 2017 after being appointed by Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

Opposition politicians said Johnston’s resignation is another signal that a public inquiry should begin.

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“David Johnston has done the right thing,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted Friday. “Now the prime minister must call a public inquiry, so that we can restore trust in our democracy.”

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Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said in French that he salutes Johnston’s dignified decision, and that Trudeau has no choice now but to call a public inquiry.

Conservative MP Erin O’Toole called Johnston an “exceptional Canadian” in a tweet of his own, thanking him for his service to the country.

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“It is so disappointing that the prime minister used his stellar reputation as a political shield,” O’Toole said. “It is time to finally call a national inquiry to look at how best to safeguard our democracy from interference,” he wrote.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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