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Canada did not ignore intelligence on Chinese meddling, report says

Governor General of Canada David Johnston, meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government did not ignore evidence of Chinese meddling, a special rapporteur said on Tuesday after probing media reports based on leaked intelligence that said Beijing sought to influence elections and policy.

Trudeau welcomed the report, but opposition parties continued to push for a public inquiry.

In March the government asked David Johnston, who formerly served as Canada's governor general, to investigate as a special rapporteur media coverage citing intelligence reports alleging multiple cases of meddling by China and to advise on whether to conduct an official public inquest.

"I have not found instances of the government knowingly ignoring intelligence, advice or recommendations on foreign interference, or making decisions based on partisan considerations in dealing with these issues," said Johnston in a 55-page report.

China has repeatedly denied any interference. Beijing's embassy in Ottawa again denied meddling on Tuesday, and a spokesman said the leaks were part of a campaign "to smear China".

Johnston had access to classified memos, the prime minister, other Cabinet members and top intelligence officials. He found many of the leaks to have been based on "limited and partial intelligence" or even false information.

"However, there are significant governance shortcomings in the way intelligence is communicated from security agencies to the various government departments," he added.

The prime minister has come under pressure from opposition parties in parliament to open a public inquiry into foreign election interference, but when Johnston recommended against one, Trudeau said he would follow his advice.

A public inquiry "would prolong, but not enhance, the process," the report said, explaining that most of the inquest would necessarily be secret because of the classified nature of the information.

Johnston urged opposition leaders to get clearance to read the secret parts of his report, but if they do so, they would be constrained by law not to speak about those details in public.

"I will not be silenced," said Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre. "This report was rigged from the start and has zero credibility." Poilievre accused Johnston of being a friend of the Trudeau family, which Johnston denies.

Conservatives alleged Trudeau ignored intelligence reports because the meddling benefited Liberals in elections. Opposition New Democrats, who support Trudeau's minority government in parliament, also want an inquest.

"We remain resolute that a public inquiry is necessary to restore the confidence in our electoral system," New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters.

Earlier this month, Trudeau's government expelled a Chinese official after it emerged that he had sought information about Conservative lawmaker Michael Chong's family, prompting a tit-for-tat expulsion of a Canadian diplomat by China.

Instead of a new public inquest, Johnston said he will spend the next five months holding public hearings on the issue because "foreign governments are undoubtedly attempting to influence candidates and voters in Canada".

(Reporting by Steve Scherer, editing by Deepa Babington and Cynthia Osterman)