Canada is summoning China’s ambassador in Ottawa after alleged threats targeting a Conservative member of Parliament and his family.
The move came as conflicting information from the Liberal government and the Conservatives raised more questions Thursday about what steps were taken when the alleged threats against Michael Chong were first raised by intelligence officials.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly made the announcement while appearing at a parliamentary committee meeting in Ottawa Thursday.
Joly said the federal government is keeping all options open, including expelling diplomats.
This comes after the Globe and Mail reported, citing a top-secret document and an anonymous national security source, that China’s intelligence service sought to target Chong and his family in Hong Kong — and that a Chinese diplomat who remains in Canada was involved.
“What has happened is completely unacceptable. I cannot imagine the shock and concern of learning that your loved ones have been targeted in this way,” Joly said.
“In light of the fact, confirmed by CSIS, I have instructed my deputy minister to summon the Chinese ambassador.
“He will convey to him directly that we will not tolerate any form of foreign interference and that all options, including expulsion of diplomats, remain at the table as we consider the consequences for this behaviour.”
Chong says Ottawa should have informed him about potential threats to his family made by China’s government two years ago.
Chong, a former cabinet minister, currently serves as the Tories’ foreign-affairs critic and routinely criticizes the regime in Beijing for its human-rights record and its alleged attempts to meddle in Canada’s affairs.
In February 2021, he voted in favour of a motion condemning China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority as a genocide. The following month, China sanctioned Chong, barring him from entering the county and prohibiting Chinese citizens from conducting business with him.
At the House of Commons meeting Thursday, he repeatedly pressed Joly on why the diplomat in question was still in the country.
“Why is this diplomat still here?” Chong said. “A diplomat who has more rights and immunities than the Canadians around this table to go around and conduct his foreign interference threat activities? He has diplomatic immunity. He cannot be criminally prosecuted.”
Joly said Ottawa was assessing the consequences Canada might face from Beijing in case of a diplomatic expulsion.
“I think it’s important that Canadians know what we’ve learned from the ‘Two Michaels’ experience is that, of course, China and the PRC will take action.”
She was referring to Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who spent more 1,000 days in a Chinese prison over espionage claims that were widely condemned around the world as arbitrary detention in retaliation for the detention by Canada of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.
In Chong’s case, the Conservatives insist the federal Liberal government failed to act on the threat that came up two years ago, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week that the security agency made the decision not to notify anyone. He has since ordered CSIS to inform the government of any threats against MPs or their families, even if the intelligence is not considered actionable.
But during question period on Thursday, Chong said he had just been informed by Trudeau’s national security advisor Jody Thomas that CSIS had sent an intelligence assessment dated July 20, 2021, “to the relevant departments and to the national security adviser in the (Privy Council’s Office).”
“This report contained information that I and other MPs were being targeted by the PRC,” Chong told the House of Commons. “This contradicts what the prime minister said yesterday.”
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino responded that the government has tabled a 2022 CSIS report “which states that CSIS provided briefings to 49 federal parliamentarians.”
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has presented a motion in the House of Commons asking MPs to call on the government to take more aggressive action against threats of foreign interference, including expelling Chinese diplomats. That is expected to face a vote on Monday.
— with files from The Canadian Press