Liberal MP Han Dong said Tuesday he has reached out to Canada’s security intelligence agency for more information on allegations he was part of a Chinese foreign interference network during the 2019 federal election.
But he also said he has not made a similar request to the prime minister’s office — despite Global News reporting that senior aides to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were briefed by national security officials about the allegations against Dong three weeks before voters headed to the polls.
Asked why he has not reached out to senior PMO staff to verify the allegations, including Trudeau’s national security advisor Jody Thomas, Dong said he trusts his campaign.
“Because I know the truth,” he responded when pressed by reporters outside the House of Commons Tuesday, which marked the first time Dong has taken questions on the matter. “I know the truth because I know my campaign.”
Pressed again, he pointed to an independent panel’s findings that the results of the 2019 and 2021 elections were not influenced or compromised by attempted foreign interference.
“To me, that’s enough.”
Global News reported last month that three weeks before the 2019 federal election, national security officials allegedly gave an urgent, classified briefing to senior aides to Trudeau, warning them that one of their candidates was part of a Chinese foreign interference network.
According to sources, the candidate in question was Dong, then a former Ontario MPP whom Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had started tracking in June of that year.
National security officials also allege that Dong, now a sitting MP re-elected in 2021, is one of at least 11 Toronto-area riding candidates allegedly supported by Beijing in the 2019 contest. Sources say the service also believes Dong is a witting affiliate in China’s election interference networks.
In late September, about 48 hours before the federal election nomination deadline, CSIS urged Trudeau’s team to rescind Dong’s candidacy, a national security official said.
Sources alleged that Dong frequently called Chinese officials in Ontario and “was considered a close friend of the Toronto Consulate.”
Dong denied the allegations to Global News and also in a public statement three days after the story was published. He doubled down on those denials Tuesday.
“I’ve never been offered, nor would I accept, any help from a foreign nation. I’m a Canadian,” he said.
Dong said he was “not aware” of any help being given to anyone else working on his campaign, or the campaign itself. He said he has spoken with some of his campaign staff who have also denied any knowledge of any interference efforts.
Pressed, he said he would categorically deny that his campaign received any help from the Chinese consulate in Toronto “to my knowledge.”
CSIS was also allegedly concerned about the Liberal Party’s nomination process, according to Global News’ sources. Among the irregularities allegedly observed in the September 2019 contest, sources say, was that Chinese international students with fake addresses were allegedly bussed into the riding and coerced to vote in Dong’s favour or else risked losing their student visas.
According to sources, an October 2022 CSIS report included details on an investigation into the nomination process in Dong’s Don Valley North riding.
“CSIS reporting indicates that, during a political party nomination vote prior to the 2019 General Election in Canada, two busloads of Chinese Canadian seniors were brought in to support a specific candidate,” the report says.
It adds that the seniors had the name of the candidate they were told to vote for concealed under their sleeves.
Asked about those specific allegations, Dong said transportation for seniors was a regular service provided by his campaign.
“My campaign offered transportation to seniors, not just Chinese seniors,” he said, adding that those services were properly expensed and reported to Elections Canada.
He added that “a lot of young people” came to support him and his candidacy from all diasporas in the riding.
“It’s not my job to check if they’re international students, or not international students,” he said.
Dong said he has sent a letter to CSIS director David Vigneault asking for details on the allegations and “to confirm if it was a leak from CSIS” that informed Global News’ reporting. He said he has received acknowledgement the letter was received, but nothing more in response.
“I have never received a phone call from CSIS,” he said. “I have never (been) made aware if there is an investigation by CSIS, RCMP or Elections Canada pertaining to my nomination or my election.”
He added he has not reached out to the PMO because he “cannot defend myself against an unverified, anonymous source.”
Global News has not confirmed the CSIS allegations in its original story.
Global’s ongoing investigation over the past four months has revealed exclusive details about concerns over China’s attempts to interfere and influence Canadian elections, including allegations that a network being run out of China’s consulate in Toronto allegedly aimed to support at least 11 Toronto-area riding candidates from the Liberals and Conservatives in the 2019 contest.
Those reports, along with reports from the Globe and Mail alleging attempted interference in the 2021 election, have put immense pressure on Trudeau and the Liberal government to detail what they knew about those activities and when, as well as how they are working to protect future elections from interference.
Government officials have maintained that the interference did not compromise the overall integrity of those elections. An independent report on the panel’s 2021 findings this month reiterated that conclusion.
Multiple investigations are underway by MPs and national security agencies into the issue. Former governor general David Johnston has also been appointed as a special rapporteur to oversee that work, as well as to examine whether a public inquiry is needed.
Dong said he supports the current measures being taken to investigate foreign interference, but would not say if he supports the idea of a public inquiry.
— with files from Global’s Sam Cooper and Alex Boutilier
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