David Johnston, the official tasked with investigating allegations of election interference in Canada, has resigned from his role, attributing his decision to criticism from opposition parties. The 81-year-old was appointed in March to examine claims of Chinese meddling in the Canadian federal elections of 2019 and 2021.
Johnston, a former governor general, sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday, indicating his intent to step down from the role by the end of the month. His appointment had been marred by accusations of bias owing to his personal connections to Trudeau.
Despite his intention as an independent special rapporteur to strengthen trust in democratic institutions, Johnston stated that the “highly partisan atmosphere” surrounding his appointment had led to the opposite effect.
Johnston had previously announced that the government had not overlooked evidence of Chinese interference and had advised against a formal public inquiry. Instead, he suggested conducting a series of hearings to look into the allegations. However, scrutiny around his role heightened, and he was subsequently accused of bias by opposition parties.
Johnston’s personal ties with Trudeau, which include owning neighboring holiday homes and their families sharing ski trips, were highlighted as potential conflicts of interest. Additionally, Johnston had been involved with a charitable foundation named after Trudeau’s late father, former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The foundation’s leadership stepped down in April following controversy over a Beijing-linked donation.
The interference allegations originated from reports in the Canadian media, largely based on leaked intelligence, detailing instances of Chinese meddling in the country’s last two federal elections. It is not believed that the alleged interference influenced the election results.
China has consistently denied these allegations and has accused Canada of “slander and defamation” after expelling a Chinese diplomat earlier this month.