House passes motion calling for a public inquiry into foreign interference amid latest Han Dong allegations

Most MPs in the lower house voted to call for a public inquiry into foreign electoral interference on Thursday, increasing pressure on the federal government after fresh allegations of China’s alleged interference in Canada’s affairs.

The NDP motion passed with 172 votes in favour, 149 against.

While the vote is non-binding, it shows the will of the majority of MPs entitled to vote, increasing pressure on the government and threatening to distract from US President Joe Biden’s visit to the capital.

The vote came a day after Toronto-area MP Han Dong’s shock departure from the Liberal faction.

Dong, who voted in favor of Thursday’s motion, told the lower house late last night that he would sit as an independent after Global News published a story claiming he had advised a senior Chinese diplomat in February 2021 , Beijing should wait before releasing Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – the two Canadians being held by China at the time.

Dong denies the allegations.

“I’m taking this extraordinary step because I’m… [sit] in the ruling group is a privilege and my presence there could be seen by some as a conflict of duty and the wrong place to be when an independent inquiry is following up the facts on this matter,” he said as he read a statement in the House of Commons.

CLOCK | Han Dong announces he is leaving the Liberal caucus amid allegations of foreign interference:

Han Dong, the Toronto region MP who has been at the center of allegations his campaign benefited from Beijing’s interference, says he is leaving the Liberal faction and will sit as an independent.

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The Global Story quoted two unnamed national security sources as saying Dong, who represents the Don Valley North cavalry, suggested the release of the two men would help Conservatives.

CBC News has not verified the claim and it is not immediately clear how the Conservative Party would have benefited.

The arrests of Kovrig and Spavor were widely viewed as retaliatory measures in response to the 2018 arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Canada following a US extradition request. The two men were released on September 24, 2021, four days after the federal election.

Dong confirmed to Global that he had held talks with Consul General Han Tao, but denied that he advised Beijing to delay the release of the two Canadians.

Composite illustration with Michael Spavor, left, and Michael Kovrig.
Michael Spavor, left, and Michael Kovrig were released from custody in China in September 2021. (Colin Hall/CBC, Chris Helgren/Reuters)

“Let me get that straight. What has been reported is false and I will defend myself against these absolutely untrue claims,” ​​Dong said in his speech to parliament.

“Let me assure you, as a Parliamentarian and as a person, I have never and will never advocate or support the violation of the basic human rights of any Canadian, by anyone, anywhere, for any period.”

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre used Question Time to demand answers from the government as to when it would be informed of the latest allegations.

“The intelligence agencies that leaked this information to the media would have told the Prime Minister. When did you tell him?” he asked.

Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly replied that the release of Kovrig and Spavor was the government’s “top priority”.

Trudeau did not attend Question Time on Thursday. A spokesman for the prime minister’s office told Global they only recently became aware of the MP’s conversation with the consulate in 2021 “after Mr Dong shared it with us following recent media inquiries”.

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The motion asks the government to approve a report by the House Procedures and Affairs Committee calling on the government to “open a national public inquiry into allegations of foreign interference in Canada’s democratic system.”

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The request goes on to say:

  • Should be given all necessary powers to subpoena government and political party witnesses.
  • Should be able to investigate abuses of diaspora groups by hostile foreign governments.
  • Should be authorized to request and review any documents it deems necessary for this work, including documents related to national security.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, whose party has a confidence and supply agreement with Trudeau, said he hoped the Liberals would vote in favor but would not win support for the minority government.

“That’s not a decision we’re making today,” he said. “What we are doing today is forcing a vote on this very issue.”

“It has now become very clear that accusations are being made daily that are undermining people’s confidence in our democracy, that we need a public inquiry.”

CLOCK | ‘The only way to clean the air… is a public inquiry’: NDP leaders

‘The only way to clean the air… is a public inquiry’: NDP leaders

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to reporters ahead of the House of Commons vote on an NDP motion to approve a report calling for a public inquiry into foreign interference.

The government has so far resisted calls for a public inquiry, suggesting that review bodies such as the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians and the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency are better placed to deal with these issues.

Trudeau appointed former Governor General David Johnston as “Independent Special Rapporteur on Foreign Interference”. Johnston has until May 23 to decide whether to propose that the government hold a public inquiry.

Conservatives have criticized Johnston’s appointment, citing his relationship with the Trudeau family and his role at the Trudeau Foundation. Johnston has since resigned from the foundation.

Dong’s comments come as opposition lawmakers seek to uncover what the Liberal Party knew or didn’t know about Beijing’s alleged attempts to interfere in Canada’s elections.

Reports by the Globe and Mail have claimed that the Chinese government has sought a liberal minority government in the 2021 election.

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An independent panel tasked with overseeing the 2021 election concluded foreign interference did not affect the outcome. The CSIS calls the Chinese government’s foreign interference activities the “top strategic threat to national security”.

Dong is accused of benefiting from China’s interference

During his speech on Wednesday, Dong said, his voice cracking, “I am a proud liberal.”

“Before I close I would like to reassure Mr Michael Spavor and Mr Michael Kovrig and their families that I have done nothing to harm them.”

A previous Global News story, which also quoted anonymous sources, said that in 2019, alleged national security officials gave senior officials from Trudeau’s office an urgent briefing “warning them that one of their candidates was part of a Chinese foreign interference network.” .

Global says its sources claim the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency (CSIS) believed Dong, who was re-elected in 2021, was a “funny partner” with China’s election-interference networks.

Dong spoke to reporters Tuesday for the first time since this story broke in February.

“I wasn’t offered anything, I wasn’t told anything, I wasn’t informed, and I wouldn’t accept any help from abroad either in my nomination or during my campaign,” he said.

Dong also said Tuesday he had not been contacted by CSIS, RCMP or Elections Canada.

A CSIS spokesman declined to comment on whether the lack of contact with Dong was unusual.

“There are important limits to what I can discuss publicly given the need to protect sensitive activities, techniques, methods and sources of information,” Eric Balsam told CBC News in an email on Wednesday.

“Disclosure could allow our adversaries to disrupt or damage our operations, techniques, methods and sources of information. These restrictions are therefore essential to ensure the security and prosperity of Canada.”

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman denied interfering in Canadian affairs.

“We have no interest in Canada’s internal affairs and will not interfere in them,” Wang Wenbin said Thursday when asked about Dong’s resignation.

“There should be no irresponsible comments on this,” he added, according to the official English transcript of a press conference in Beijing.

CLOCK | Dong denies that Beijing played any role in his election:

MP Han Dong says Beijing played “absolutely no” role in his election

MP Han Dong discusses alleged electoral interference after a media report said he was one of the candidates believed to have received financial backing from the Chinese government ahead of the 2019 elections.


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