Law firm awarded $4.5 million contract for David Johnston foreign interference probe


A Toronto-based law firm was awarded a nearly $4.5 million contract to work on former special rapporteur David Johnston’s ill-fated foreign interference probe.

According to a document tabled in the House of Commons, on the request of Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, law firm Torys LLP signed a $4,496,887.50 contract on April 21 to provide “professional services” during Johnston’s investigation, which was sparked by allegations of Chinese efforts to influence Canadian politics.

“That’s just a complete waste of money,” Rempel Garner told by phone on Thursday. “I hope that the government has answers for that waste to Canadians.”

Johnston, who served as governor general from 2010 to 2017, was named Canada’s independent special rapporteur on foreign interference in March. The appointment sparked political backlash over Johnston’s apparent connections to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family and the charitable Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. As part of his work, Johnston hired prominent Torys LLP partner and lawyer Sheila Block, a reported Liberal Party donor.

After facing criticism over an initial public report in late May, Johnston resigned from his post on June 9 citing “the highly partisan atmosphere around my appointment and work.”

The full cost of Johnston short-lived term as independent special rapporteur has not been disclosed.

Torys LLP will likely receive less than the nearly $4.5 million outlined in the contract. According to Canada’s Privy Council Office, “expenses are not anticipated to reach the full value of the contract” due to Johnston “finalizing his work earlier than expected.”

CTV News previously reported that Johnston received a per diem of between $1,400 and $1,600 a day. Costs associated with his staff, travel and “other reasonable expenses” were also covered.

Ottawa-based communications firm RKESTRA was additionally awarded a $28,238.70 contract for media relations support. Both the Torys LLP and RKESTRA contracts were sole-sourced. Together they were worth over $4.5 million.

Torys LLP provides a range of legal services from offices in Toronto, New York, Calgary, Montreal and Halifax and. Partner Sheila Block was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2022 for “her trailblazing contributions to law in Canada and abroad, and for her wide-ranging advocacy.” Block reportedly donated over $7,500 to the federal Liberal Party between 2006 and 2022.

Citing Canada’s Privacy Act, the contract document would not disclose details on the services provided by Torys LLP.

Torys LLP also sub-contracted crisis communications firm Navigator to “provide communications advice and support” to the foreign interference investigation.

Toronto-based Navigator is a public relations, lobbying and crisis management firm that has developed a reputation for steering notable Canadians through high-profile scandals—at high prices.

Past clients battling sexual abuse allegations, for example, have included Hockey Canada and disgraced former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi. Former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly also hired Navigator during the Freedom Convoy in early 2022 to help with messaging while facing criticism for how he handled the weeks-long protest. The company’s slogan is: “When you can’t afford to lose.”

The Navigator contract was first revealed in June. Amid growing uproar, Johnston cut ties with Navigator on June 8 and resigned from his post the following day, after spending less than three months on the job. More than six months were left in his term.

“It is Navigator policy not to comment on our client engagements,” a Navigator spokesperson said in an email to “Our work, providing communications advice, in support of Counsel to the Independent Special Rapporteur is a matter of public record.”

Rempel Garner received the contract information through what’s known as an order paper question. Similar to freedom of information requests, order paper questions allow members of parliament pose questions and get written responses from the government. The response was tabled in Parliament on September 18.

“Why did I put that order paper question in?” Rempel Garner, member of Parliament for Calgary Nose Hill, said. “So that the public can be aware of these expenditures and we can hold (the government) to account for them.”

Torys LLP and Canada’s Privy Council Office, which is responsible for the two contracts, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Johnston released his initial report on foreign interference in May and ruled out a public inquiry. Citing “serious questions” with his mandate and conclusions, opposition MPs voted for Johnston to “step aside” from his rapporteur role soon after in a non-binding majority vote that both Johnston and the Liberal government rejected.

After months of negotiations with opposition parties following Johnston’s resignation, Canada launched a public inquiry into foreign interference in September. Trudeau named Quebec judge Marie-Josée Hogue to act as commissioner. Her work began this week, on September 18.

“The government should have entered into an inquiry nine months ago,” Rempel Garner added. “The delay and the expenditure is not the type of action that inspires confidence in the public that the government is on top of important issues of matters of national security.”

With files from CTV News Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello


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