Canada lawmaker denies report of Chinese influence, but exits party

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A Chinese-Canadian lawmaker, cited in unconfirmed media reports as having ties to the Beijing government, forcefully denied those allegations but announced his resignation as a member of the Liberal Party led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau last month denied a media report the party had been warned by the country's spy agency to drop Han Dong, a Toronto-area member of parliament, as a Liberal candidate ahead of the 2019 election because he had Beijing's support.

On Wednesday a new story by Global News, a Canadian broadcaster, reported Han had advised a senior Chinese diplomat in February 2021 that Beijing should hold off freeing two Canadians held there under espionage charges.

Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig returned to Canada in September 2021 after Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou was released from house arrest in Canada.

"I did nothing to cause them any harm. Like everyone in this house, I worked hard and advocated for their interest," Han told parliament after the Global News report.

Trudeau's office did not immediately comment.

Earlier this week, Trudeau bowed to pressure from the opposition and agreed to allow his top aide to testify before a parliamentary committee probing alleged Chinese election interference.

"What has been reported is false and I will defend myself against these absolutely untrue claims," Han said after saying he would sit as an independent in parliament and leave the Liberal caucus.

"Sitting (in) the government caucus is a privilege and my presence there may be seen by some as a conflict of duty and the wrong place to be as an independent investigation pursues the facts," he said.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)