Trudeau told ‘no action should be taken’ on alleged Han Dong nomination irregularities

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Foreign interference inquiry hears details of Trudeau’s secret interference briefings
WATCH: Foreign interference inquiry hears details of Trudeau's secret interference briefings – Apr 9, 2024

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was told in September 2019 about alleged “irregularities” in Han Dong’s nomination in Don Valley North, but a senior Party member advised against taking action based on the intelligence available at the time.

Trudeau was first briefed on Sept. 30, 2019 – one day before the Liberal leader could replace Dong as their candidate in the GTA riding – according to one of his longest-serving staffers.

Jeremy Broadhurst, who served as the Liberals’ 2019 campaign manager, told a public inquiry into foreign interference Tuesday that he briefed the prime minister about potential Chinese influence in Dong’s 2019 nomination contest in Don Valley North.

The briefing occurred 22 days ahead of the 2019 general election — and one day before the Liberals could change their nominee.

Intelligence officials from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) told Liberal party representatives, including Broadhurst, about  allegations of foreign interference by China in the Don Valley North Liberal nomination race, which Broadhurst relayed to Trudeau two days later after the leader got back to Ottawa following a week of campaigning.

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The information included allegations of “buses being used to bring international students to the nomination process, in support of Han Dong, at the direction of PRC officials in Canada.”

Based on the intelligence, however, Broadhurst advised against taking action to replace Dong — a suggestion that Trudeau ultimately accepted.

“I determined that this was something that I did need to be brought to the attention of the prime minister,” testified Broadhurst.

“I provided (Trudeau) with information based on the information that we had on the time and based on what I thought what should be an extremely high bar for overturning a democratic result,” Broadhurst said.

“I had recommended the prime minister that no action should be taken.”

Broadhurst maintained that there was not an unusual level of challenges from Dong’s opponents, leading him to believe that no action should be taken based on unconfirmed intelligence.

Dong resigned from the Liberal caucus on March 22, 2023 and now sits as an independent. He has denied any wrongdoing, and is suing Global News’ parent company over its foreign interference coverage.

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“I didn’t pay attention to busing international students because … I didn’t understand it as an irregularity,” he said.

Dong’s campaign manager, Ted Lojko, testified that he didn’t know anything about the busload of students.

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The commission lawyer grilled Dong last week about why he failed to come forward with the information until Monday, but the now-independent MP said his wife reminded him about it only after his interview with the commission.

He decided to let the commission know about the additional information after a recent discussion with his lawyer, he said.

“It was a short period of time for the campaign and I was reaching out to as many groups as I can,” Dong testified.

It’s not illegal for international students to vote in Liberal nominations, as long as they can prove they live in the riding. Dong denied any knowledge of the students allegedly using falsified documents to vote in the nomination. Dong testified that he presumed the bus with students was arranged by the school.

“I would be the first one condemning it. I think it’s an insult to our democratic system,” he said.

On Monday, Global News reported that a document submitted to the inquiry shows Trudeau was briefed about alleged interference in the Don Valley North race, shortly before election day in 2019.

Parties have 21 days before the vote to remove a name from a ballot, according to election rules. At the time, the Liberal party was in a hard-fought contest against Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives that came after the SNC-Lavalin scandal and photographs emerged of a younger Justin Trudeau in blackface that emerged from decades earlier. 

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But Broadhurst said parties have other options if the deadline passes, like disavowing a candidate.

A top-secret report submitted at the public inquiry into foreign election interference says Canada’s spy agency alerted the prime minister in February 2021 about alleged interference in former Liberal MP Han Dong’s riding, two years before the allegations became public in a Global News story.

In talking points prepared by the CSIS director, David Vigneault wrote, in “February 2021, I briefed the Prime Minister on PRC (People’s Republic of China)-linked individuals interfering with the 2019 Liberal nomination in Don Valley North.”

Last week, the inquiry heard CSIS had intelligence that Chinese international students who went to a private high school were bused in to vote in Dong’s 2019 nomination contest. The information provided by the spy agency at the inquiry has not alleged that Dong knew about China’s alleged efforts to interfere in his nomination race.

For more than a year, Trudeau has dodged questions about when CSIS briefed him about alleged “irregularities” in Dong’s nomination contest.

After allegations first surfaced in February 2023, Trudeau strongly endorsed Dong, telling reporters at the time that they were happy to have an MP like “Dong in our midst, serving his community.”

The prime minister also suggested that anti-Asian racism was at play.

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“Once again, 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 around people’s loyalties,” he said.

Last week — more than a year after the initial Global News report — Trudeau was asked again when he learned about alleged interference in Dong’s riding, but would not say.

“The ongoing foreign interference commission is an important way of highlighting some of the challenges we face (among) some of the solutions that we put forward to keep our democracy safe,” Trudeau said.

“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 at the inquiry Wednesday.

David Vigneault, the director of CSIS, has also been recalled to discuss new evidence surfaced by the inquiry after his testimony. His appearance is set for Friday.

Trudeau’s deputy chief of staff, Brian Clow, told the commission he advocated for the public release of a classified document that he believed would clear Dong’s name in relation to a separate allegation.

Dong has been accused of advocating against the immediate release of two Canadians detained in China — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — during a 2021 phone call he had with a Chinese consular official.

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The Canadian Security Intelligence Service ultimately opted not to release a summary of the call, which Clow said he felt would exonerate Dong.

“If a document is leaked to the media, it appears in the news, that can’t be the last word,” Clow testified Tuesday.

“There should be a way to get more facts out so a person can defend themselves and so Canadians can know the truth.”

Dong told the commission last week he didn’t recall the conversation but said he always advocated for the early release of the “two Michaels.”

With files from the Canadian Press.

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