Canada summons Chinese ambassador over alleged threats to MP Michael Chong
Updated May 4, 2023 12:22 p.m. EDT
Published May 4, 2023 11:30 a.m. EDT
OTTAWA - The Liberal government is summoning China's ambassador over allegations by Canada's spy agency that a Chinese diplomat in Toronto was involved in a plot to intimidate a Conservative MP and his family.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said Thursday she asked her deputy minister to tell Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu that Canada will not tolerate any form of foreign interference in its affairs.
Joly confirmed media reports that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service believes a diplomat working out of China's Toronto consulate had targeted Conservative MP Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong, due to his criticism of Beijing's human-rights record.
"What has happened is completely unacceptable," Joly told the House of Commons foreign affairs committee Thursday morning, looking across the room to Chong.
"All options including expulsion of diplomats remains on the table, as we consider the consequences for this behaviour," Joly said.
The Opposition Conservatives are urging the Liberals to expel the diplomat. Joly said she will make sure all foreign envoys follow the United Nations agreement that sets out acceptable activities.
"All foreign agents in Canada must abide by the Vienna Convention. If they do not, there will be consequences," she told MPs.
Joly expressed her sympathy for Chong, who glared at Joly asking why the diplomat had not already been sent packing.
"I cannot imagine the shock and concern of learning that your loved ones have been targeted in this way," Joly said.
Chong appeared unimpressed.
"So why is this diplomat still here?" he asked.
"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."
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.
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.
Trudeau said Wednesday that he had only learned after a Globe and Mail article on Monday, citing top-secret documents, said CSIS had the intelligence. He said he has ordered Canada's intelligence agencies to immediately inform MPs of any threats against them, regardless of whether those threats are considered credible.
"CSIS made the determination that it wasn't something that needed to be raised to a higher level because it wasn't a significant enough concern," Trudeau said Wednesday.
He said that around the same time, CSIS was asked to brief Chong after China publicly said it would sanction him for criticizing Beijing's treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China's Xinjiang province.
But the agency never told Chong about any threats.
Earlier Thursday in Beijing, China's Foreign Ministry played down allegations of China trying to intimidate Chong and his relatives.
"China is opposed to any interference in a country's internal affairs. We never interfere in Canada's internal affairs and have no interest whatsoever in doing so," spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters, according to an official English transcription.
"We are resolute in defending our sovereignty, security and development interests and opposing actions that interfere in China's internal affairs and harm China's interests."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2023.
The Liberal government is summoning China's ambassador over allegations by Canada's spy agency that a Chinese diplomat in Toronto was involved in a plot to intimidate a Conservative MP and his family.