Toronto-area MP Han Dong is at the centre of a political firestorm following a Global News report that he allegedly spoke with a Chinese diplomat in 2021, advising Beijing to delay freeing Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, according to two intelligence sources.
While Dong acknowledged the conversation with China’s consul-general in Toronto, Han Tao, he strongly denied the allegations that he told Beijing to hold off the release of the two Canadians.
He has subsequently resigned from the Liberal caucus, giving an emotional speech Wednesday night in the House of Commons.
“What has been reported is false, and I will defend myself against these absolutely untrue claims,” said Dong, who will now sit as an Independent.
“Let me assure members that, as a parliamentarian and as a person, I have never advocated, and I will never and would never advocate or support the violation of the basic human rights of any Canadian or of anyone, anywhere, period.”
Global News previously reported last month that Dong is one of at least 11 Toronto-area riding candidates who was allegedly supported by Beijing in the 2019 federal election, according to national security sources.
The sources spoke to Global News on the condition of anonymity, which they requested because they risk prosecution under the Security of Information Act.
Dong has denied the allegations.
In an effort to glean more about the Don Valley North MP’s positions on issues regarding China, Global News has compiled a review of his votes and statements inside and out of the House of Commons:
Statements on the Two Michaels
Kovrig and Spavor spent more than 1,000 days in prison in China in what was believed to be in retaliation for Canada’s 2018 detention of Meng Wanzhou. The Huawei senior executive was arrested in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant over fraud charges related to U.S. sanctions violations against Iran.
While two national security sources told Global News that Dong urged Chinese Consul General Han Tao to delay freeing the Michaels, Dong pushed back strongly against the allegations in a response to Global News.
“I raised the status of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig and called for their immediate release,” he wrote.
“At every opportunity before they returned home, I adamantly demanded their release to Canada without delay. Any suggestions otherwise are false and are attempts to mislead you and your readers, and slander me.”
Global News reviewed all statements made by Dong in Parliament since he was elected in 2019 and found no remarks related to the Two Michaels or calls for their freedom prior to March 2023.
Dong did not respond to questions about where he’s previously made such statements.
The Globe and Mail reported Thursday that the Trudeau government determined there was no “actionable evidence” after it received a CSIS transcript of a 2021 conversation between Dong and China’s top diplomat in Toronto.
According to The Globe, a senior government source indicated that conclusions could not be drawn that Dong asked Beijing to keep the two Canadians in prison for political reasons.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked Friday by reporters about whether he believed Dong advocated for delaying the Michaels’ freedom.
The prime minister did not directly answer that question despite his office’s review of the conversation’s transcript.
“Dong gave a strong speech in the House that I recommend people listen to. We fully accept that he is stepping away from the Liberal caucus in order to vigorously contest these allegations,” the prime minister said.
Trudeau added that meddling by China, Russia or Iran “is a very real challenge to our democracy and is absolutely unacceptable.”
Calls for interference inquiry
Shortly after resigning from the Liberal caucus, Dong voted Thursday for an inquiry into foreign election interference.
The Trudeau government has been under intense pressure for perceived inaction after reports of China’s alleged meddling in Canadian elections.
Dong voted with the Conservative Party, Bloc Québécois and New Democrats to help pass the motion with 172 votes in favour and 149 against, largely comprised of Liberal MPs.
Since 2019, there have been three votes on Canada-China relations. One was to review “the Canada–China relationship,” the second a call to combat growing Chinese foreign operations in Canada, and third recognizing that authoritarian regimes like China “increasingly pose a threat to the rules-based international order.”
Dong voted with the entire or vast majority of the Liberal caucus against the three motions.
On Feb. 1, a Liberal motion was brought forward condemning China’s human rights abuses of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang and called on the government to bring 10,000 Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims to Canada.
Uyghurs in other countries, the motion said, are pressured to return to China, where they face “forced sterilization, forced labour, torture and other atrocities.”
Dong voted before and after the Uyghur genocide motion but missed the show of hands on the Uyghurs, which passed with the unanimous consent of all 322 MPs present. His absence was first reported by the National Post.
The Toronto MP did not respond to questions from Global News about his non-attendence and referred Global to his statement before the House of Commons.
“Members skip their votes, abstain their votes all the time, and I wasn’t the only one that skipped the vote,” he told reporters Tuesday.
In February 2021, there was a House vote to declare that China’s treatment of the Uyghurs constituted genocide.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet abstained, but MPs were free to vote. Dong skipped that motion, which passed unanimously.
Amid a flurry of questions from reporters about the stunning allegations against him, Dong said that in 2020 he had called for a motion to study “election interference.”
In November 2020, Dong did call for a study on “ways to further protect Canada’s democratic and electoral institutions from cyber and non-cyber interference.”
The study, he said at the time, should include “how new domestic and international stakeholders, as well as other orders of government, can work together to strengthen Canada’s whole-of-society preparedness, resilience and civic engagement in the face of evolving threats to democracy.”
In 2021, a Conservative motion sponsored by MP Michael Chong requested that the Public Health Agency turn over unredacted documents related to the shipment of viruses sent from Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory to Wuhan, China in 2019, and the subsequent firing of two scientists from the Winnipeg facility.
Dong voted with the nearly entire Liberal caucus against the motion, which nonetheless passed in Parliament.
Speaking to reporters outside the House of Commons earlier this week, Dong said he had voted in favour of motions considered hostile to Beijing’s interests.
China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and views any overture of support as meddling in its internal affairs.
In October 2022, Dong indeed joined 323 MPs in voting for the politically sensitive country to become a WHO member. And in June 2021, Dong joined all 327 MPs in favour of unanimously passing a Parliamentary committee motion to condemn Chinese sanctions levied against Conservative MP Michael Chong.
In February, Dong publicly supported the Liberal government’s move to expand the open-work permit program for Hong Kong residents.
The former British colony, which reverted to Beijing’s control in 1997, has seen a massive wave of emigration following anti-government demonstrations four years ago. The protests were sparked by a bill that would have allowed people to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China.