- Written by Nadine Youssef
- BBC News, Toronto
A member of the Canadian Parliament has resigned from his party’s caucus over allegations of his involvement in Chinese political interference.
Han Dong has been accused of pressuring a Chinese diplomat to keep two Canadians detained in Beijing.
On Wednesday, Mr. Dong said he would leave Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ruling Liberal Party to sit as an independent.
Mr. Dong denied the allegations against him.
Mr. Dong, who was elected to parliament in 2019, said in an emotional evening address to Canada’s House of Commons.
“Let me be clear, what has been reported is false. I will defend myself against these allegations which are absolutely untrue,” he said.
The two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have been imprisoned in China for more than a thousand days on espionage charges. The pair became known around the world as “Two Michaels”.
Their detention was widely seen as retaliation for the 2018 arrest of Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou in Canada at the request of the United States, which was seeking her extradition on fraud charges.
According to the Global News report, Mr. Dong allegedly suggested to the diplomat in February 2021 that releasing the Canadians would benefit Canada’s Federal Conservative Party, which is seen as unfriendly to Beijing.
Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were eventually released on September 24, 2021. The next day, Ms. Wanzhou was released from detention in Canada and returned to China after a plea bargain with US prosecutors.
The allegations against Mr. Dong come as Canada grapples with broader accusations that China tried to interfere in Vancouver’s last federal and municipal elections.
A series of reports published in recent months by Global News broadcasters and The Globe and Mail newspaper, based on anonymous national security sources and leaked classified documents, have indicated fears of Beijing’s interference by pressuring its consulates in Canada to support some of the candidates.
The alleged interference is not believed to have altered the outcome of any of the federal elections.
Mr. Trudeau has faced mounting political pressure to launch a public inquiry, and this month appointed an independent special rapporteur to look into the reports and determine whether such an investigation was necessary.
A majority of the House of Commons on Thursday passed a non-binding motion calling for a public inquiry, with most Liberals voting against it. Mr. Dong cast his vote in favour.
In February, the prime minister came to Mr Dong’s defense after a report emerged that the MP might be endangered.
“I want to make everyone absolutely understand that Han Dong is a valued member of our team, and suggestions that he is not loyal to Canada in some way should not be amused,” Trudeau said.
Dong confirmed to Global News that he had already spoken with diplomat Han Tao, but said he called for the immediate release of the Canadians.
In a statement to Global on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trudeau said the prime minister’s office “only learned that a conversation took place after we told Mr. Dong, following recent media questions.”
On Thursday, the Chinese consulate in Toronto said allegations of Chinese interference were “absolutely unfounded”.
“It is the responsibility of the consular posts to conduct extensive contacts and conduct friendly exchanges with local governments and all circles of society,” the statement said.
A spokesperson for China’s foreign minister, Wang Wenbin, did not comment on the specific allegations against Dong, but denied that Beijing had ever tried to interfere in Canadian politics.
“China opposes interference in other countries’ internal affairs. We have no interest and will not interfere in Canada’s internal affairs,” Wenbin said on Thursday.
Some Chinese-Canadian politicians have raised concerns about the anonymous allegations in the news reports, saying they may be racially motivated.
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