A government appointee looking into allegations of Chinese interference in Canada announced on Friday that he is stepping down from his role, citing the highly partisan atmosphere around his work.
Former Canadian Governor General David Johnston said in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that his leadership of the government’s probe into purported meddling by China has not helped build trust in democratic institutions because of partisanship.
The appointment of Johnston was contentious, with opposition Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre accusing him of being too close to Trudeau’s family.
All opposition parties in the House of Commons have called for the government to hold a public inquiry into the allegations of foreign interference, but Johnston recently released a report recommending against that. In Friday’s announcement, Johnston also indicated he would release a brief final report before his departure.
Johnston said he encourages Trudeau to appoint a “respected person, with national security experience” to finish the inquiry and to consult with opposition parties on who that should be.
Then-Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Johnston as governor general in 2010, and his term was extended under the Liberal Trudeau until 2017. The governor general is the representative of Britain’s monarch as head of state, a mostly ceremonial and symbolic position.
Johnston is also a former member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.
Trudeau has said he had full confidence in Johnston’s handling of the inquiry and played down the importance of any family connections.
Earlier this year, Canada expelled a Chinese diplomat alleged by Canada’s spy agency to have been involved in a plot to intimidate an opposition Conservative lawmaker and his relatives in Hong Kong. The lawmaker had criticised Beijing’s human rights record. China expelled a Canadian diplomat in retaliation this month.
China regularly uses threats against family members to intimidate critics in the Chinese diaspora.
China-Canada relations nosedived after China arrested former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor. That came shortly after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of telecoms giant Huawei and daughter of the company’s founder, at the behest of United States authorities who accused her of fraud.