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Please reveal the shadows undermining our democracy

If you ever studied philosophy you’ll be familiar with Plato’s allegory of the cave. The philosopher described people who’ve spent their lives chained in a cave, facing a blank wall. All they know of reality is from shadows projected on the wall created by objects passing in front of a fire behind them.

When it comes to the most alarming type of foreign interference in our politics, Canadians are being put in the same position as those prisoners in Plato’s cave. We’re not allowed to get a direct look at the reality of what’s going on. After all, you know, national security!

Instead, we’re told to be contented with a series of shadows projected by a parade of politicians, who themselves aren’t permitted to show us more. From these fragments of reality, partial and distorted, we are expected to draw conclusions. To go further, we’re told, would be reckless and irresponsible.

So we learn first from a blue-ribbon panel of MPs and senators that some parliamentarians – they won’t say publicly how many and they certainly won’t say which ones – are believed to have colluded with foreign governments against the interests of Canada.

The charge could hardly be more inflammatory. The report delivered by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) leaves open the very real possibility that some sitting members of the House of Commons and/or Senate might be among those suspected of working against their own government and country.

We, chained in our cave, recoil at this terrifying shadow darkening the wall. How horrifying, we cry. Tell us more – who, when, how many …

Another politician appears with a very different shadow. Elizabeth May, as co-leader of the Green Party, is permitted to stare directly at reality, or at least a version of it – the unredacted NSICOP report. After reading it, May says she is “vastly relieved” and adds: “There is no list of MPs who have shown disloyalty to Canada.”
The prisoners, presumably, can unclench a bit. Especially when the chair of NSICOP, Liberal MP David McGuinty, says we shouldn’t focus just on wrongdoing by individual parliamentarians but look at the bigger picture of foreign meddling. Another shadow flickering on our wall.

Then comes yet another politician with a very different and disturbing message. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh emerges to say that, unlike May, he is decidedly not relieved after reading the full, uncensored report. On the contrary, he says, “I am more concerned than ever.”

The unredacted report, he says, confirms the impression left by the public version – “that some MPs did indeed collude with foreign powers.” What they’ve done, says Singh, is unethical, in some cases illegal, and “they are indeed traitors to Canada.”

So, we have yet another shadow on the wall, another partial version of the reality that must be out there somewhere – mustn’t it? We’re left to wonder which is closest to the truth – one politician’s reassuring tale of a Parliament free of disloyal members, or another’s story of traitors in our midst.

What we don’t have are the versions – shadows, if you like – from the party leaders with the most at stake. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not spoken at length about the NSICOP report and his government has not provided a convincing response to its allegations.

Even though the government had the report for 11 weeks before the redacted version was made public, it hasn’t offered a plain, understandable answer to obvious questions, such as whether it has any concerns about its own MPs. Instead, it’s tried to punt any action to the RCMP and the Hogue inquiry into foreign interference.

As for Pierre Poilievre, he has totally abdicated any leadership on this issue. The NSICOP report alleges foreign interference in two Conservative leadership races, including the one he won. Yet, Poilievre refuses even to read the unredacted report. It’s behaviour unworthy of a would-be prime minister.

Canadians, meanwhile, remained tethered in their cave, trying to decipher the shadows on the wall. A country that was serious about foreign interference would not settle for this.

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