Toronto Firm Nets $4.5M for Failed Foreign Interference Probe

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In a surprising turn of events, a lavish sum of approximately $4.5 million has been granted in a contract to Toronto’s legal firm, Torys LLP, for its services associated with the failed foreign interference investigation led by ex-special rapporteur, David Johnston.

Unearthed during a session in the House of Commons, the information was brought to light at the request by Conservative MP, Michelle Rempel Garner. Details of the contract reveal that it was ratified on April 21, with an aim to benefit from the law firm’s explosive expertise through their “professional services.” The probe, now ultimately a troublesome affair, was initially instigated based on claims involving China’s attempts to sway Canada’s political landscape.

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Garner, commenting on the contractual agreement and quoted expenditure, labeled it as a “complete waste of money”. Her assumption that the government would justify such an expense to the public added to the intrigue.

Previously entrusted with the role of governor general between 2010 to 2017, Johnston was appointed as an independent-special rapporteur on foreign interference in Canada during March. This nomination sparked controversy due to perceived links between Johnston, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family, and the philanthropic Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. Adding to the complexity was the hiring of Sheila Block, a prominent Torys LLP partner and attorney who was also reportedly a Liberal Party donor.

Johnston’s tenure was marred by criticism, culminating in his resignation on June 9, spurred by the intense partisan atmosphere surrounding his appointment and subsequent work. The criticism was a direct result of his first public report, published in late May. The complete financials underlying Johnston’s brief term have not been publicly declared yet.

The actual remuneration received by Torys LLP can be expected to be less than the near $4.5 million mentioned in the contract. Fiscal optimism stems from the anticipations of Canada’s Privy Council Office, which believes that the total expenses won’t match the contract’s full value. This optimism is due to Johnston’s early-than-anticipated conclusion of his work.

The contract further involved the allocation of an additional sum of $28,238.70 for media relations support, awarded to Ottawa’s communications firm RKESTRA. In total, the combined value of contracts awarded to Torys LLP and RKESTRA exceeds $4.5 million.

Adding to the mix, the law firm also subcontracted crisis communications firm Navigator for advice and assistance in handling communications related to the foreign interference probe. A source of much controversy, Navigator – a Toronto-based public relations, lobbying and crisis management firm – has made a name for its skill in navigating clients through high-stakes scandals.

Amid mounting public disapproval, Johnston severed ties with Navigator on June 8, and resigned his post the next day. Navigator remained tight-lipped on their experience and refused to comment on their association and engagement with their clients.

The contract information was received by Garner through an Order Paper Question, a process akin to freedom of information requests. Garner’s rationale for posing the Question was to create awareness about government expenditure and hold the latter accountable.

Post-resignation, Johnston refuted the possibility of a public inquiry in his initial report on foreign interference. Months of dialogue with opposition parties ensued, and ultimately, a public investigation was launched into foreign interference in September. The mantle was passed on to Quebec judge Marie-Josée Hogue to spearhead the commission. Critics argued that the unnecessary delay and extravagant expenditure cast a shadow over the government’s competence in handling crucial national security issues.