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What Trudeau has said about ex-Liberal MP Han Dong and foreign interference

Han Dong’s future with the Liberal Party remains in doubt after his testimony at the federal inquiry into foreign interference earlier this week.

Dong spent Tuesday afternoon in Ottawa fielding questions about his dealings with the Chinese consulate in Toronto, about alleged irregularities in his 2019 nomination contest and foreign interference generally.

Now serving as an independent, the Don Valley West MP stepped down from the Liberal caucus after Global News, citing unnamed national security sources, reported that Dong benefited from a Chinese foreign interference network in his bid for the Liberal nomination in 2019.

Dong has denied the allegations and is suing Global News for defamation.

When the allegations first surfaced, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau strongly endorsed Dong, telling reporters in February 2023 that the Liberals are “extraordinarily happy” to have an MP like “Dong in our midst, serving his community.”

Trudeau’s special rapporteur into foreign interference, David Johnston, confirmed that Dong had a relationship with the Chinese consul general in Toronto, and acknowledged irregularities – such as busloads of students and seniors being transported to Dong’s nomination – in how he became the Liberal candidate for Don Valley West. Johnston did not find evidence that Dong was aware of the irregularities.

But Johnston also questioned some of the media reporting around Dong’s case – including a report by Global News that intelligence sources alleged Dong advised the Chinese diplomat against the quick release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Dong denied the allegation and said he has always advocated for the early release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Almost nine months later, Dong’s status with the party remains in limbo, telling the inquiry Tuesday that no decision had been made.

While Trudeau initially defended Dong – and suggested he’d be welcome back to the Liberal caucus – the prime minister’s response to questions on the topic has evolved over the past year.

February 27, 2023

At a press conference in Mississauga three days after Global’s first story on Dong, Trudeau gave a full-throated defence of his MP.

“We are extraordinarily happy to have a member of parliament like Han Dong in our midst, serving his community … I want to make everyone understand fully Han Dong is an outstanding member of our team, and suggestions that he is somehow not loyal to Canada should not be entertained.”

“One of the things we’ve seen unfortunately over the past years is a rise in anti-Asian racism linked to the pandemic, and concerns being arisen around people’s loyalties,” Trudeau added.

March 3, 2023

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While in Winnipeg, Trudeau held a press conference and pointed out that members of diaspora communities are often targeted by foreign interference operations in Canada.

“We know that Chinese Canadian parliamentarians, and Chinese Canadians in general, are greater targets for interference by China than others … We know the same goes for Iranian Canadians, who are more subject to interference from the Iranian government. Russian speakers in Canada are more vulnerable to Russian misinformation and disinformation, and we get updated regularly on how we can make sure that our integrity and that the work Canadians do to serve in politics is done with full protections.”

March 8, 2023:

In the House of Commons, Trudeau responds to allegations that the Chinese consulate in Toronto may have earmarked money for a number of candidates they viewed as friendly to Beijing.

“The issue of foreign interference in our democracies and our institutions is extraordinarily serious … However, on the specific question, as I and the (National Security and Intelligence Advisor) both stated last fall, we have no information on any federal candidates receiving money from China, and that continues to remain the case.”

March 23, 2023

The Globe and Mail reports that Trudeau’s office was not aware that Dong spoke to a top Chinese diplomat in Toronto about the detainment of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. After being made aware of the conversation through questions from the media, the Prime Minister’s Office received a CSIS transcript of the 2021 conversation, but determined there was no “actionable evidence” of wrongdoing. Dong admitted having a discussion with a top Chinese diplomat but denied the allegations he advocated for the delay of the release of Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor.

“As the Prime Minister underscored last week, whenever he is briefed on intelligence matters, he asks what can be done and what steps need to be followed. Whenever there is action to be taken, we do so,” a PMO spokesperson told the newspaper.

March 24, 2023

Trudeau was asked if he believed a media report indicating intelligence sources alleged Dong spoke to a Chinese diplomat in Toronto about the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and recommended against their immediate release.

“Han gave a strong speech in the House that I recommend people listen to and we fully accept that he is stepping away from the Liberal caucus in order to vigorously contest these allegations. But I do want to take a step back and point out that foreign interference, interference by authoritarian governments like China, Russia, Iran and others is a real challenge to our democracies and is absolutely unacceptable.”

May 24, 2023

David Johnston’s report on foreign interference was released on May 23. It recommended against a full public inquiry, and took issue with a number of recent media reports despite acknowledging that foreign interference was a significant problem. It also confirmed that Dong spoke to a Chinese diplomat in Toronto about the detention of the “Two Michaels,” but disputed Dong suggested they should not be immediately released.

“I think on this point, the report by Mr. Johnston was fairly unequivocal that there were false allegations made against Mr. Dong and I look forward to having conversations with him. He decided to step away from caucus in order to clear his name. I will hear from him on what his thinking is going forward.”

A summary of a CSIS report of the conversation between Dong and the Chinese diplomat – intercepted by security agencies – was released by the federal inquiry on April 2, 2024.

“Mr. Dong expressed the view that even if the PRC released the ‘Two Michaels’ at that moment, opposition parties would view the PRC’s action as an affirmation of the effectiveness of a hardline Canadian approach to the PRC,” the summary read.

Dong told the inquiry that it was “possible” he said that, but he did not recall the conversation. He reiterated that he “always” advocated for the Two Michaels’ release and improvements to their conditions in detention.

June 28, 2023

After Johnston’s resignation amid opposition accusations of bias and personal connection to the Trudeau family, Trudeau accuses opposition MPs of playing “games” on the foreign interference file.

“Opposition parties played terrible partisan and toxic games with the process that was independent and serious in its approach. We do not want to see someone of the integrity of David Johnston in the future – people we might choose to do this work – attacked by the same partisan toxicity we unfortunately saw on display over the past months.”

Sept. 7, 2023

With Johnston’s resignation still on his mind, Trudeau announces a full public inquiry into foreign interference after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations with the opposition parties.

“A public inquiry that has been worked on by all different parties, that is agreed to by everyone so that it hopefully doesn’t descend into the kind of toxicity and disagreement we saw this spring will go a long way towards not just reassuring Canadians that we are doing everything necessary to keep them and our institutions safe, but demonstrate clearly the need of other countries to cease their interference activities.”

April 3, 2024:

Trudeau holds a press conference on housing a day after Dong testified at the federal inquiry. He’s asked directly about Dong’s evidence and the “Two Michaels” conversation. The prime minister does not mention Dong by name and does not respond to questions about his future in the Liberal caucus.

“The ongoing foreign interference commission is an important way of highlighting some of the challenges we face with some for the solutions that we put forward to keep our democracy safe. And I want to reinforce to everyone that our expert, non-partisan panel, looking at the 2019 and 2021 elections confirmed that those elections happened in a way where the integrity held, (and) where the outcome was decided by Canadians.”

Trudeau is scheduled to testify before the commission next week.

— with files from David Baxter, Sophall Duch and Global News Staff.


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