It’s “easier” for Ottawa to stop Chinese diplomats from entering Canada than to expel them once they are here, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly says.
She also acknowledged to the committee that the Chinese ambassador has been summoned specifically over election interference, with a Global Affairs Canada official echoing that in response to a question on Thursday that asked if the summoning was over “interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections.”
“Yes, that is correct,” said Jennie Chen, an executive director with GAC’s Greater China division.
The comments Thursday came after Joly told a committee of MPs investigating suspected Chinese interference in Canada that Global Affairs Canada denied a Chinese “political operative” a visa last fall. The Globe and Mail first reported the news Thursday morning.
“When China wanted to send a political operative last fall, we decided to deny a visa, which obviously is the right thing to do,” Joly said.
“When it comes to our own accreditation process for granting visas to diplomats, there’s a higher level of awareness in the last months. … I’ve instructed my department to never shy away from denying a visa if it’s for a political operative and therefore linked to the Communist Party of China.”
The Liberal government has been under fire in recent weeks over how seriously it has taken suspected Chinese foreign interference, as reports from Canada’s intelligence community continue to emerge.
On Wednesday, Global News published a story indicating two high-level national security reports before and after the 2019 election suggest senior government officials were warned that Chinese government officials were funnelling money to Canadian political candidates.
Joly’s appearance at the Procedure and House Affairs Committee comes as pressure grows on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call a public inquiry on the issue.
He announced on Monday a slew of investigations, but not an inquiry.
The Chinese political operative who was denied entry in the fall appears to be the only case of a Beijing diplomat barred from entering Canada under Joly’s watch. She was asked repeatedly how many times Canada had expelled Chinese diplomats, but frequently did not give clear answers.
But she said she believes that preventing Beijing’s officials from entering Canada is “easier” than kicking them out, given Beijing will likely expel Canadian diplomats in return.
“In China right now, our biggest challenge is to understand how China operates, how they plan, how they work. I believe profoundly in the importance of diplomacy and our diplomats. More than ever, we need capacity, we need eyes and ears on the ground,” she said.
“I’m extremely concerned by the protection of Canadians abroad. We know we have consular cases with China. We need to engage to protect these people. This is something that keeps me up at night, and so that is why it is important that we have capacity in Beijing and across our network in China.”
Joly added, however, that if any Chinese diplomats were in breach of the Vienna Convention on Canadian soil, the government would act “very, very quickly” in expelling them.
The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations is a United Nations treaty governing the conduct of and expectations for diplomats around the world. It lays out what diplomatic missions can and cannot do, and the expectations for how they will be treated by the states where they operate.
“I believe it’s easier to prevent (than to expel),” Joly said.
“I think that the question afterwards when it comes to diplomats in our country is: how do you make sure that you have the evidence to deal with an expulsion, and what are the impacts of an expulsion?”
She also said Canada has summoned the Chinese ambassador several times on many issues.
“On election interference?” Conservative MP Michael Cooper asked her.
“Like I said, yes,” Joly said before turning the question over to Chen.
“Diplomatic representations were made to Ambassador Cong by senior officials at GAC on Feb. 24,” Chen said.
Cooper asked: “With respect to interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections?”
Meanwhile, a committee of parliamentarians that oversees national security says it has begun a study of foreign interference, following a request from Trudeau on Monday.
In a statement, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) says it will examine the state of foreign interference in Canada’s democratic processes since 2018.
“Foreign interference and influence have been identified as significant threats to the rights and freedoms of Canadians and Canadian society,” NSICOP Chair MP David McGuinty said.
“The committee recognizes the importance of preserving the integrity of our institutions, and looks forward to building upon its previous review of the government’s response to foreign interference.”
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